Lobbying for change
Chicoan goes to Congress to push carbon-dividend plan
Just a few months ago, Ann Bykerk-Kauffman never thought she’d be on Capitol Hill trying to influence Congressional Republicans to adopt a sweeping environmental plan.
Yet, last Tuesday (June 13), there she was, walking through doors of three congressmen’s offices to lay out a fee-and-dividend proposal regarding fossil fuels.
Bykerk-Kauffman is not a lobbyist, even if she played the part for a day. She’s a Chico State geology professor who recently joined the nascent Chico chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby—the nonpartisan nonprofit championing the carbon dividend. CCL held a three-day summit in D.C. that culminated with Lobby Day.
Partnered with members from other chapters, Bykerk-Kauffman met with aides for Rep. Doug LaMalfa, who represents the North State, and two of his GOP colleagues from Florida, Reps. Ted Yoho and Bill Posey. CCL groups also lobbied senators.
In LaMalfa’s office, Bykerk-Kauffman took the lead. She spent 20 minutes with Legislative Assistant Jack Lincoln, explaining the concept and CCL, noting not only her chapter in Chico but also another based in Redding. (Two additional chapters fall within Congressional District 1’s boundaries: Nevada City and Placer Foothills.)
So, how did it go?
“It went very well,” Bykerk-Kauffman said the next day by phone from D.C. “The main thing that we asked for was to continue the discussion; we’re hoping to set up a meeting in the district….
“We didn’t have high expectations; we didn’t go in blind because of what he has said in the past [regarding climate change]. When someone has been dismissive of an idea in the past, it is going to take them a while to come around. We started a conversation, and the more you expose someone to an idea, the more open they become to it.”
The CN&R reached out to LaMalfa’s office but had not received a response by deadline. The congressman has made a series of public statements that dismiss human-caused impacts on climatic conditions, such as deriding former President Barack Obama’s “misguided focus on climate change,” and has a lifetime score of 1 percent on the National Environmental Scorecard from the League of Conservation Voters.
Five other Californians—from neighboring District 3, represented by Democrat John Garamendi, and the Bay Area—accompanied Bykerk-Kauffman to the meeting with Lincoln. Two of her CCL compatriots were Republicans; one had met LaMalfa at the GOP convention.
Their cause happens to have bipartisan support. The Climate Solutions Caucus in Congress, established by two South Florida Republicans last year “to educate our members on economically viable options to reduce climate risk and protect our [country],” has a 50/50 party split among its 42 House members. Meanwhile, the international Climate Leadership Council has pushed “the conservative case for carbon dividends”—advocating for what CCL proposes.
The carbon fee-and-dividend policy works like this:
• Fossil-fuel suppliers pay a fee at the point of entry into the U.S economy (i.e., well, mine, port).
• The federal government places that money in a designated fund.
• That fund gets distributed to every American to defray the increased cost of goods as a result of the fee.
Under the CCL plan, that fee would start out at $15 per ton of carbon dioxide produced by utilization of the material, then increase $10 per ton per year. (Import fees would protect domestic trade.) Each adult would get one share and child a half-share, up to a total of three shares per family.
“Everything you buy and the manufacturing process uses fuel,” Bykerk-Kauffman explained. “That would end up increasing prices on all goods and services, so this dividend would help offset that.”
A CCL study determined that 20 years after implementing the fee-and-dividend plan, the U.S. would reduce CO2 emissions to half of 1990 levels, add 2.8 million jobs and avert 230,000 preventable deaths.
“The reason these cool things would happen is you’d put an incentive in to use other kinds of energy besides carbon-based fuel,” she said. “The creation of jobs is because 50 percent of the population would get more back in dividends than they’d pay in increased prices, so they have extra cash and that would stimulate the economy. And then the premature deaths avoided would be due to cleaner air.”
That straightforward solution represents a significant reason Bykerk-Kauffman joined CCL, which she discovered while preparing climate change curriculum for her Chico State classes.
Eric Nilsson, co-coordinator of the Chico chapter, also appreciates how the organization stays “laser-focused” on promoting this proposal.
“We recognize that all other efforts at dealing with climate change are noble and worthwhile; this is just what we’re focusing on,” he told the CN&R by phone from Chico. “We’re in unity with all these other groups that are taking action….
“The goal of our local chapter is to educate at the grassroots level, to lobby at the grasstops level—community leadership—and [ultimately] to establish a working relationship with our congressperson and senators.”
Though the group just came together this spring, Chico’s chapter made a big step with Bykerk-Kauffman’s presence at CCL’s International Conference and Lobby Day. Her husband, Mark Kauffman, happened to have a business trip to D.C. planned at the same time, so she volunteered.
Going made a difference, she said, because it showed Congress—particularly the local representative—that “we’re part of a bigger group; we’re not just this rogue organization in Chico.”