Arizona milestone: Flagstaff endorses national carbon fee
By Pam Shaouy
Respectful persistence paid off in a big way for the Flagstaff chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). Flagstaff recently became Arizona’s first city to urge Congress to pass national revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend legislation.
This is a vital time for municipal resolutions. Since the White House exit from the Paris Agreement, many cities are taking the lead on climate action. And the recent catastrophic hurricanes fueled by warming oceans are driving home the urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.
“This is an exciting time to approach cities. They offer a real way to make a difference,” says Shawn Newell, leader of CCL’s Flagstaff chapter. “And they’re not so entrenched in the political discord we see at the federal level.”
That’s not to say the Flagstaff chapter didn’t face challenges. They did. It took two tries and a whole lot of patience, perseverance and respectful persistence to get the resolution passed.
Their effort began with a bit of good luck. A CCL Flagstaff chapter member was in the same yoga class as a city council member and introduced the idea of the resolution to her. Based on the council member’s feedback, the team gained important insights and a sense that three of the seven members would vote for the resolution. That was a relief. But four would need convincing.
Sandy Simon, CCL’s National Municipal Resolutions Project Coordinator, advises, “It’s important to understand the council members’ values and how each would vote. Research the members online. Attend a city council meeting or two. Know what you have in common with each, so that when you do meet, you can have the most productive meeting possible.”
The Flagstaff team did just that and met with three of the four skeptical members. The fourth was ill and unable to meet. While the team felt some natural apprehension about these meetings, they knew they needed to press forward to firm up at least one more vote. “It turned out the one-on-one meetings were essential to address each member’s concerns and reduce any uncertainty in private, before our formal presentation to the council.”
One of the council members was almost hostile in online communications. But the team exemplified CCL values and remained friendly and respectful.
Simon reiterates three important things about planning for a municipal resolution:
- Know how many council members there are
- Know how many it takes to pass the resolution
- Establish a relationship with the council members
When it came to crafting the resolution, the Flagstaff chapter researched other CCL municipal resolutions that had passed. They put together pieces of resolutions they liked and tailor-made one for Flagstaff. Newell explains, “We kept ours succinct and high level so people wouldn’t get caught up in the details.”
The team meticulously researched and prepared a tight PowerPoint presentation and rehearsed presenting it. They covered why a carbon fee was important and why Flagstaff—a city in the semi-arid Southwest—should care. They included facts and projections about the local impacts of climate change. The team also showed how CCL’s Carbon Fee and Dividend resolutions and endorsements were approved by a wide range of supporters, including conservative groups and businesses.
Finally, the Flagstaff chapter met with their city council and gave it their all. But the council voted against the resolution three to four. The team knew the council member composition would change with an upcoming election, and they could come back to reintroduce the resolution.
Although disappointed, the team persisted and presented to the council again this year.
The chapter was pleasantly surprised when the lead of a newly formed climate group attended the second meeting to voice support for the resolution. The unexpected show of support was a powerful addition to the Flagstaff chapter’s presence. “Use social media to announce your council meeting, and ask your allies to show up and support you,” Newell suggests. “If they’re concerned about climate, they’ll want to be a hero and help.”
The second try was the charm. After a similar round of one-on-one meetings and a slightly revised CCL presentation, the resolution passed on September 5. “We were so excited! And what was most surprising was that the resolution passed unanimously,” Newell marvels. “One of the values of Citizens’ Climate Lobby is respectful persistence. It pays off. We’re thrilled that Flagstaff is now a leader in Arizona calling for a national carbon price. I’m also personally moved by how committed everyone on the council was to getting to a unanimous vote. They really worked together to get that done.”
Simon emphasizes, “Municipal resolutions are powerful tools for influencing policy at a federal level. Leaders are speaking on behalf of the thousands of people they represent. This can really influence Congress. It’s easier for Congress to enact federal carbon fee and dividend legislation if it has the support of an aggregate of local governments.”
As reported in this Arizona Daily Sun editorial, Flagstaff joins more than 50 other cities, counties and local jurisdictions passing similar resolutions in support of national revenue-neutral carbon fee and dividend legislation. That’s an impressive—and growing—number to report when we lobby Congress in mid-November. Simon is hopeful that, just as the number of CCL supporters has doubled each year, the number of Carbon Fee and Dividend resolutions passed in cities like Flagstaff will double this year.
Flagstaff CCLers are already making sure the resolution gets to Senators John McCain and Jeff Flake and Congressman Tom O’Halleran to urge them to take action in Congress. And the timing couldn’t be better. Senator McCain now says it’s time to figure out some “common-sense solutions” to climate change.
With respectful persistence, perhaps Senator McCain can usher in a wave of support for Carbon Fee and Dividend legislation in the Senate.