By Lauren Shuster, Esq., a 1Sky organizer at NYPIRG. -- Luis
On Wednesday, I attended the Americans for Prosperity (AFP) anti-RGGI rally in downtown Manhattan. For those of you who may not be familiar with AFP, they describe themselves as "...an organization of grassroots [emphasis added] leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels."
Sounds innocuous enough, right? Well, think again. AFP has its sights set on dismantling the most successful regional greenhouse gas emissions reduction agreement in the country: the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). On Wednesday, about one hundred sign-wielding protesters arrived in two luxury charter buses bearing the name Citigroup in front of the so-called "clandestine" offices of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) to protest the RGGI auction taking place "secretly" inside.
The protesters claim that the RGGI and other cap and trade agreements like it are nothing more than a "secret tax" that will "kill jobs" and "cap our energy production." They also claim that RGGI does nothing to protect the environment and therefore, "even environmentalists should rise up against RGGI."
Let’s consider some facts about RGGI before drawing any conclusions:
How could a four-day work week after Labor Day and with the Senate in recess still feel so full? Could we possibly have much to talk about? Actually, we always have a lot to talk about, and this week it’s about contemplating the movement, direct action against mountaintop removal, pondering the failure of a comprehensive climate bill, and a wrap on Bill McKibben's excellent solar adventure.
On Monday of last week, in front of the Chamber of Commerce in Palm Beach, Florida, Senator George LeMieux spoke about the need to support small businesses, as Florida is primarily a small business state with no fortune 100 companies housed here. When he was finished, I was the first person to shoot my hand up in the Q&A session. I introduced myself as a representative of Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and thanked him for his thoughtfulness on our economy and his support for clean energy initiatives, which he had also mentioned in his speech.
I also asked him if, considering all of his support for clean energy and for small business, he would also support a cap on carbon that would generate revenues from Big Energy and distribute them to clean energy businesses, which are primarily small and growing. The senator talked a long and good game about supporting the Lugar bill and tax breaks for clean energy, but ultimately clarified that he does not support a price on carbon as he has been informed that this would cause a 35 percent increase in energy costs. In his answer, LeMieux also identified himself as a staunch supporter of investing in nuclear power, which he defined as the "cheapest clean energy" source on the market.
While we would not define nuclear as clean from the environmental costs in terms of water and waste, as well as the health costs of Leukemia traced to neighbors of transmission lines and reactors, it's also important to point out that nuclear is actually really expensive. In fact, according to a study from Duke University, solar is less expensive than nuclear now. Solar power has been on a trajectory to become less and less expensive, and 2010 is the year in which finally it surpassed nuclear as a more affordable option.
The most important takeaway from this day was that Senator LeMieux came out publicly against a cap on carbon. This was the first time climate solutions advocates heard the senator take a position. While the senator supports clean energy tax breaks and investments, all of which will jumpstart our green economy and curb carbon emissions, I was disappointed to hear he does not support a cap. A cap on carbon is the only way to ensure we can control cutting greenhouse gases within the timelines we need, in the timeframe outlined by scientists.
More than 90 people have signed up through 1Sky and our partners 350.org and Energy Action Coalition to be involved with shadowing Colorado’s senators during the August/September recess. And thanks to the primary elections in Colorado on August 10th, opportunities for shadowing around our beautiful mountain state over the last week have been numerous, and we’ve turned out supporters for at least five events.
Colorado Senators Mark Udall and Michael Bennet have proven they care about the climate crisis and understand the benefits of transitioning to clean energy. Both voted to protect Clean Air Act authority to regulate carbon emissions (i.e., opposed Sen. Murkowski’s 'Dirty Air Act' resolution) and both expressed their disappointment in written statements for the Senate's failure to pass a comprehensive climate and clean energy bill. Sen. Udall was also pushing hard for inclusion of a national Renewable Energy Standard (RES) through an online petition that garnered over 2,500 signatures. So we’re giving them our thanks for these actions and encouraging them to be even stronger leaders on these issues when they’re back in Washington.
Volunteers (including my daughters pictured below) showed up for a kick-off rally for Sen. Bennet’s 24-hour Colorado tour with signs thanking him for being a climate and clean energy champion and urging him to keep fighting for a real climate bill. As Sen. Bennet emerged from his tour bus, he made a bee line straight for my little ones, gave them hugs, read our signs (we were the only ones there with signs other than the standard campaign signs), and then nodded his acknowledgment.
Last week, the Senate adjourned for the August congressional recess without taking up narrow legislation to address the Gulf oil disaster – let alone a more comprehensive climate and energy bill to address the root problem of our fossil fuel dependence. To decry this unacceptable state of affairs, a climate coalition led by 1Sky took to Capitol Hill last Thursday to call out the Senate for failing to act.
From members of the 1Sky Board of Directors: Jessica Bailey, KC Golden, Bracken Hendricks, Bill McKibben, Billy Parish, Vicky Rateau, Gus Speth and Betsy Taylor
As we find ourselves surrounded by the tatters of the climate debate in the U.S. Congress, it seems fitting to take a moment to step back and ponder where we go from here. While the blogosphere is buzzing with assignments of blame for the failure of the Senate to act, we are much more concerned about how we move forward with urgency and clarity of purpose. Unfortunately, we do not have the luxury to pack our bags and go home as the Senate did only moments ago. We just staggered through the hottest six months in recorded history worldwide. People everywhere are being impacted by the damage we have done through decades of carbon loading, and it is clear that our ailing planet will not sit idly by as our political leaders have done.
In reflecting, we find ourselves returning to the founding principles of 1Sky when we formed in 2007: We must redouble our efforts to unite American society across all divides in an unyielding call for action on the scope and scale of the enormous challenge and opportunity we are confronting. We are galvanized by the understanding that the political, human rights and economic repercussions of climate change transcend the ‘environmental issue’ label, and present a nation-wide challenge requiring a unified response. As United States citizens, we understand our moral and ethical responsibility to act with resolve – both as members of a global community, and as the leading per capita emitters of global warming pollution. We must succeed in building a nationwide movement that changes the politics of what is possible to deliver what is necessary; our very lives depend on it.
The central aspirations of our campaign as embodied in the 1Sky Solutions which have been endorsed by more than 600 allied organizations nationwide continue as our north star:
Reduce global warming pollutionat least 35 percent below current levels by 2020, and at least 80 percent by 2050.
Create 5 million green jobs and pathways out of poverty by rebuilding and refueling America with a comprehensive energy efficiency mobilization including immediate investment in a clean-energy infrastructure.
Re-power America by imposing a moratorium on new coal plants that emit global warming pollution and replacing dirty fuels such as coal and oil with 100 percent renewable energy.
But what lessons can we learn from the last three years, years in which the advocacy for action on climate change was better funded and coordinated than ever before? We all had high hopes, and the debate was closer to center stage than it has ever been. But in the end, we are left largely empty-handed.
We feel it is imperative to pause, ask tough questions about what went wrong and why we as a community failed to achieve our aspirations, and – more importantly - to look carefully at what is most needed given the new legislative and political landscape. Toward this end, we are holding a retreat in mid-November with key allies, organizers, 1Sky staff and board, but also with leaders from other sectors to help us see in fresh ways, and to explore what role 1Sky can best play as we move into the next chapter.
As we prepare for the strategic discussions we will be having, six key lessons strike us as salient and worth offering now for discussion and debate. We don’t pretend to have the answers, but we are committed to grappling with the tough questions and to road-testing solutions. Our thoughts at this time:
This week started with ire over the Senate's delay in bringing a climate bill to vote before the Senate recess. And the week ends with... ire over the Senate delaying in bringing a BP accountability and efficiency bill to the floor! The Senate can't even get 60 votes to pass a small, "no-carbon capping" bill with number of non-controversial measures that easily passed bi-partisan Senate subcommittees, like Home Star?
Last week, a million gallons of oil spilled into the Kalamazoo River in southwest Michigan. My wife grew up on that river. She recalls a childhood watching the ducks, egrets, and fish that populated the river just out her back door. We were married right along the river on a warm day in July fourteen years ago. For us, it was a symbol of the flow and continuity of life. My wife sobbed as we watched the news reports about the spill, knowing it may or may not converge into Lake Michigan and that the clean up is expected to take months.
I really enjoy reading the comments left by 1Sky supporters during a call campaign. With each campaign, our supporters call their elected officials, voice their concerns with the legislators’ staff, and provide us with feedback on their call. Not only is feedback crucial for us to gauge Senate office reactions to our demands, they also inform us on how together we’re pushing our leaders to keep fighting for clean energy solutions.
Our current Spill to Bill campaign focuses on what the Senate needs to do to protect the Clean Air Act in bill negotiations over the next two weeks and help us transition from the Gulf Oil Disaster to a strong climate and clean energy bill. These callers keep pushing their leaders and making these calls to keep our voice raised for what we think is a very crucial moment for climate legislation in our country. Here are a few of my favorite comments so far from callers (hint: add your own and call your senators now!):
Claudia in PA (calling Sen. Bob Casey):
Told him…. trying to protect coal industry jobs is like protecting the guy who sweeps the deck of the Titanic.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been three months since the blowout of the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig in the Gulf of Mexico. That's three months of seeing pictures of oil-soaked birds, hearing about failed attempts to stop the spill, and reading stories of people’s lives being devastated by oil reaching their shoreline and crippling their livelihoods.
To commemorate the three month anniversary of the spill, volunteers from many environmental groups, including 1Sky, gathered in front of the Capitol for a rally on July 20. We listened to many speakers, including residents of the Gulf who had come to lobby their senators to pass a climate and energy bill. With signs and chants, we called for an end to dirty energy money in politics, an end to offshore drilling, and a shift to clean, renewable energy sources. Many people covered their hands in oil-like substances to illustrate the devastation in the Gulf and to represent the oily hands of the politicians who accept donations from dirty energy companies. After the rally, many volunteers visited the offices of the ten members of Congress who have received the most campaign contributions from BP and demanded that they give this money to relief efforts in the Gulf. Here's a slideshow of images from yesterday's event: