Legislative Strategy Session, December 2022 conference

Legislative strategy session; CCL December 2022; a graphic displaying people giving a slideshow; price on carbon; carbon price; volunteers

In this legislative strategy session, CCL Vice President of Government Affairs Ben Pendergrass and Senior Director of Government Affairs Jenn Tyler share strategies for working with a split Congress, and answer questions from volunteers about policy expectations for this year. Read and watch below for insight about legislative strategies and developments for the 118th Congress.

Please note: Since this session was recorded, the final Senate seat was won by the Democratic Party, and Republican Kevin McCarthy secured the Speaker of the House position.

Ben: Good afternoon and thank you for joining me. I’m CCL’s Vice President of Government Affairs, Ben Pendergrass. And today, we’re going to focus on the next Congress and CCL’s new policy agenda. We really think a combination of these policies can get us to the emissions targets we know we need to hit in the coming years. So today, we’ll talk about our strategy to advance a carbon price with a dividend and the rest of our policy agenda in the next Congress. If you have any meetings coming up this week, we think you should still focus on the primary asks that we have up on Community and have covered in previous lobby trainings. We think these are still the best opportunities for climate action before Congress adjourns for the year. 

I have to say I am really excited about a new policy agenda. When I joined CCL staff more than five years ago after 15 years as Senate staff and working in government affairs, I was really drawn to CCL’s work on a climate solution that was up to the task in its commitment to working with both sides of the aisle. We know this is how we must continue to work to address the challenge of climate change, and I really believe our policy agenda holds true to these two principles that brought me to CCL in the first place, and I’m really excited to work to advance them with you in the next Congress. And I’m going to turn it over to my colleague Jenn Tyler, our Senior Director of Government Affairs, to talk a little bit about the makeup of the next Congress and what that means for our policy agenda.

Jenn: Thanks Ben, and I’m so glad to be here with all of you. I’m real excited to get into the nitty-gritty of what we’ll be working on over the next couple of years. But first, let’s talk about what Congress is going to look like and what challenges that might pose to us, and what opportunities it presents. As many of you know, it’s going to be a split Congress, so the Senate is going to be Democratic, and the House will be Republican. There’s still one seat left undecided in the Senate, and if Democrats do win that seat, that will give them a 51-seat majority, which might make life a little bit easier for Senate Democrats, but it’s really not that big of a change from what we’ve seen in the past two years. 

Either way, what we know is that there’s gonna be very narrow majorities in both the House and the Senate. That’s going to really limit what each chamber can advance. So we’re not going to see a Reconciliation bill like the Inflation Reduction Act in the next two years. Any legislation that passes through Congress and gets signed into law will have to have true bipartisan support in both chambers of Congress. 

Now, when I say true bipartisan support, I don’t mean a few Republicans or a few Democrats. In the House, it has to have a majority of the majority. So the majority of Republicans in the House will have to support it. So it really has to have significant bipartisan support. 

My takeaway from all this is that I think this is the Congress we were built for. There are so many other groups, especially in the environmental space, but all around, that are backing away right now. It’s too tough for them, they think, to build bridges between Republicans and Democrats. They’re turning to the state level, the local level, forgetting about Congress — but not us. This is what we were built to do. This is our bread and butter. We’ve been working on building these bipartisan relationships. Now is our time to really capitalize on it. 

So diving a little more deeply into what Congress is gonna work on next year and the following year. The Senate — we’re going to see them really focus on confirming political appointees and judges for President Biden. The House is gonna do a lot of oversight and investigations on a wide range of topics, but both chambers are gonna have to focus on the Farm Bill. That’s gonna be a major, major legislative vehicle for some of the natural climate solutions and a bunch of different agricultural policies. The biggest bipartisan opportunities in the climate space over the next couple of years are going to be permitting reform and natural climate solutions. So with that, I’ll turn it over to Ben, and we can finally get into exactly what our legislative strategy is going to be like for the next couple of years.

Ben: Thanks, Jenn. And talking more broadly about our federal legislative strategy, I’ll reiterate what Jenn said. We are really well positioned to work with both Republicans and Democrats because we never walked away from working in a bipartisan way, even when we were focused on the reconciliation process. I want to drive home again that our policy priorities will reduce and mitigate emissions and allow us to work with both parties in new ways and that these policies are complementary to actually reinforcing each other. I also want to take just one more look at the missions reductions estimates that the Research Team put together. I think that chart on the next slide really shows that these policies, in concert, can get us to where we need to be in the next couple of years. They also push both parties toward greater action and will increase the effectiveness of our work. One of the greatest benefits of our strategy is that these different policies can be prioritized at different times. Sometimes it will be strategic to focus on some of these areas and not others or focus on specific offices. In this way, we can work to emphasize climate action on multiple fronts and leverage your work in every state and district. Here are some examples. 

Take a Republican district where we can be working to educate and gain support in the community for a carbon price with a dividend while working with the member of Congress to push them to take action on some of our forest priorities where we might have more immediate progress. A good example in a Democratic district with a member of Congress who already supports a carbon price; well, they might need to hear from us why we need to make it easier to build clean energy projects that make a carbon price more effective once it is enacted. With these policies, we will be making progress on climate with almost every member of Congress, and we’ll be that much more effective. 

In addition to and in support of our policy priorities, we will support the House Conservative Climate Caucus as it works to educate Republicans in the House on climate issues. We’ll support the House bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus as it gears up to launch in the new Congress. It was a vital place for bipartisan dialogue in the past, and it will be again in the next Congress. We’ll also support the continuing work of the Senate Climate Solutions Caucus as they continue to endorse bills and really lead on the Senate side. Now, we still need to focus. We will be most impactful if we focus on a limited number of bills in each area that are the most effective and that we can build a winning coalition around. Think five to ten bills, not 20. Lastly, you may have noticed Congress rarely moves standalone bills. Things usually get wrapped up into big packages, and with these policies, it’ll likely be no different. Now I hand it back over to Jenn to get into some of the more specific policy areas starting with a carbon price.

Jenn: Thanks, Ben. So I’m glad I can start with my favorite topic: carbon pricing. First, I want to highlight how far we’ve come. I know Madeline’s highlighted this, and so has Dana. But we really have come so, so far, especially in the past couple of years working on getting the Inflation Reduction Act passed, but working on a carbon price; we got up to 95 co-sponsors of the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. And amongst bills introduced to Congress, that’s a tremendous amount of co-sponsors. There are very few bills that get to that level in any chamber. And then we got 49 votes in the Senate, 49 senators willing to pass a carbon price — that is just huge. So really, really we should be proud of how far we’ve come, and these next two years, we’re just looking to build on that momentum and continue moving the ball forward. So diving into the dynamics for advancing a carbon price next Congress. As I mentioned before, it’s a split Congress, so we’re not going to be able to advance a reconciliation-type bill. There’s also the issue of high and volatile energy costs, which are still an ongoing issue internationally, and it’s becoming a political obstacle. It has been the past couple of years in Congress. We’ve also seen unprecedented investment in clean energy driven by the Inflation Reduction Act and also by global fossil fuel cost increases. Some of these new dynamics are obstacles, I think we can call it how it is, but those same obstacles are going to give us new opportunities to build support for a carbon price in different ways than we have before. So we’re going to keep pushing carbon pricing policy forward in effective ways that will allow us to get it across the finish line as soon as the opportunity presents itself. 

So let’s get into exactly what that strategy is for the next Congress to move the ball forward on carbon pricing. Well, one, we’re going to continue our support for what we love — carbon fee and dividend. That’s going to include supporting the reintroduction of the Energy Innovation Carbon Dividend Act. We’re also going to be open to similar bipartisan legislative approaches. They might not have a hundred percent dividend, but we’re going to be open to other bipartisan bills that might come forward in the carbon pricing space. As Dana mentioned, we’re gonna keep growing support for CBAMs, or carbon border adjustment mechanisms. That’s going to be a gateway to carbon pricing, particularly it’s capitalizing on the international angle that’s appealing to Republican members of Congress and it also works well with the current fuel cost issue. And lastly, we’re gonna keep doing what we do best and that’s grasstops and grassroots community education on carbon fee and dividend. That’s a top priority. And we’ve seen time and time again that the voices of constituents and grassroots enthusiasm is one of the key things we need to move Congress on any issue. And lastly, also very critical to advancing a carbon price are gonna be the smaller climate victories we get along the way. Getting Congress to act on other climate policy, even though it might be smaller in scope, smaller in emissions reductions, all of those smaller victories though they help build the bridges and the momentum. We need to enact a carbon price. You guys know this really well because you’ve been doing it for years now with our supporting asks. With our additional policy areas, which we’re going to get into a little further right after this, those generate even more political will in Congress for a carbon price down the road. I’ll turn it over to Ben and he’s gonna talk a little bit about healthy forests.

Ben: Thanks Jenn. Turning into our healthy forest policy priority. So what are the dynamics for advancing forest legislation next Congress? Well, as has been kind of discussed, there is a lot of bipartisan interest. Both sides agree that natural climate solutions are one way to address climate change. And you know, a lot of groups have been working in this space for a long time. But we really think CCL can inject new grassroots energy into the area. And the relationships you’ve built over the years I think are really going to come into play here. It’s going to allow us to work with Republicans in new ways and also push them to take more action. And this policy might be the area where we have the greatest chance of progress in the near term. So in the next Congress we’ll have three main legislative focuses. We’ll have a focus on combat international deforestation, healthy forest here at home and urban forest and tree equity. In the new Congress expect us to work to advance at least one bill in each of these areas. 

Our starting focus at the federal level will be on the Forest Act. This bill would combat international deforestation. And we have already been working on this bill as a supporting ask, but now it’ll be a much higher priority. For now, we’ll be aiming for strong bipartisan reintroduction in the new Congress and really focus on growing the bill’s number of Republican co-sponsors. We’ll also need to grow the coalition in support of the bill. In the beginning of the new year, be on the lookout for updates on what bills we will be supporting for domestic forest health and urban foressts as well. And as Jenn talked about earlier, the farm bill is going to be a major vehicle for forestry conservation practices, and we might be able to hitch a ride for some of our priorities on the farm bill by using smaller so-called marker bills that we might support that will then get incorporated in the farm bill and move along as a big package like I talked about earlier. Now Jenn will go over to a building electrification and efficiency.

Jenn: All right, so Dana did a great job in covering what this encompasses, what it’ll look like. But talking about the strategy for next Congress, the first thing we’re going to focus on is making sure we’re advocating for fair and equitable building electrification and efficiency policies locally, but also in Congress. As Dana mentioned, there were a lot of federal policies that impacted building electrification and efficiency included in the Inflation Reduction Act. So even though a lot was already done, it doesn’t mean federal bills won’t come up. We’re going to keep looking for those bills out there and hopefully we’re gonna be able to build more of a coalition in Congress, not just to advance more building electrification policies, but also to potentially defend it. We have another couple of years where that policy is pretty safe. But after that, depending on the makeup of Congress and the administration, we need to make sure we’re ready to defend some of these policies that were included in the Inflation Reduction Act. And that includes building electrification. 

We’re also going to educate the public on the importance of efficiency and electrification and what they can do to upgrade their homes and buildings. And lastly, we’re going to educate local elected officials on what they can do to support efficiency and electrification in their communities. So a lot of our building electrification focus, at least initially, is going to be more on local engagement because there’s so much to be done now that we have all of this money that was passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. So stay tuned, expect to hear more in the coming months about how we’re going to engage at the local level and how you can get all this info out to your neighbors, your communities, and your community leaders. I’ll turn it back over to Ben.

Ben: All right, now I’ll talk a little bit more about permitting reform, which I think is extremely important because not only is it going to unlock the benefits of a carbon price once it’s enacted, it really ensures that we lock in all those climate wins that were part of the IRA. Well, the dynamics for permitting reform legislation Congress are kind of interesting. There’s bipartisan agreement that action is necessary, but there’s different opinions on what changes are necessary and would be the most helpful. There’s some opposition on the left to speeding up the process, but then there’s some opposition on the right to giving the federal government more authority over things like transmission lines. We will support policies that speed up the approval of clean energy products that are waiting to be built, preserve communities’ ability to give input into environmental and other impacts and policies that add to America’s capacity to transmit clean energy. We will be working with both Republicans and Democrats on legislation that accomplishes these goals. And I really think it’s clear there is a real need for grassroots energy in this space. There’s a void here and CCL can really step in and make a big difference. 

There’s some things we should take into consideration. This policy is almost certainly one where there will have to be a big compromise bill with both Democrats and Republicans losing things that might be important to them in gaining things. And there will be a lot of horse trading. Another thing is we may not have a comprehensive permit reform bill that we can directly lobby for for some time like we do now when we’re doing supporting asks or the Energy Innovation Act and asking members to co-sponsor it. We might not have a bill we can point to. So at first we will probably need to just clearly send a message to Congress that action is needed and it’s a priority. And while we’re doing this, convey what policies we think are most important to speeding the construction of clean energy infrastructure. It is possible in the next Congress we might support smaller piecemeal bills or marker bills that address certain aspects of the issue. And then we can work to get those smaller bills incorporated into a bigger package. As Dana said, this could come up in the lame duck and you’ll probably be hearing more about it if it does. And we think that if there’s an opportunity to pass meaningful permitting reform that will speed some of these clean building projects, we should take that opportunity and remember barriers to building clean infrastructure would also impact the effectiveness of a carbon price. 

The big caveat here is we haven’t seen a proposal yet in the lame duck. We need to see any proposal before we can determine whether or not we should support it. And really most likely this will be something we will be working on in the next congress and is unlikely to be resolved in the coming weeks. And now I’ll turn it over to Jenn for some closing thoughts.

Jenn: Thanks Ben. I don’t know about you guys, but you know, it can be a little daunting thinking of a split Congress and all the challenges that come with it. But more than that for me, I’m so excited about the opportunities it presents for bipartisan legislation. I feel like this is exactly what our organization is about, has been about, and now we can really be in the spotlight and get this done in a way that we couldn’t have before. And our new policy agenda, I’m thrilled to push that forward. 

Many of you know I was a staffer on the Hill before I came here. I worked for a moderate Republican and there was one day when my boss came into the back office after meeting with CCL volunteers and he told me to stop everything I was doing and instead to get him a ton of info on CCL’s carbon pricing policy. Once he left the back office and I grumbled about having to drop all my tasks, our whole legislative team started talking about how CCL volunteers had been more effective at engaging our boss than almost any lobbyist or advocacy group, including those who were tied to huge corporations. They had all the resources in the world, but these CCL volunteers were able to reach him in a totally different way. And someone made the comment that if CCL volunteers were this effective with carbon pricing, imagine how much they could also get done if they worked on other climate policies as well. 

Well you guys have been building up the capacity and the know-how to do just that for several years. And this coming Congress is our chance to put that on display. Our work to advance carbon pricing healthy forest permitting reform and building electrification policy combined is gonna get us to net zero. I was so impressed with you all with CCL volunteers when I was on the Hill. Now I’m so excited to be working alongside you as we enter this new phase with an ambitious and strategic policy agenda. And I will stop there and hopefully we can take a couple of questions if we still have some time.

Mindy Ahler: Thanks Jenn and Ben, that was a great uh, great starter to the conversation. Of course there are tons of questions and we have about six minutes available to us for questions. So you’ve touched on this, but of course the top voted question with House Republicans coming into the majority, what can we do to get them to support climate legislation that the Democratic Senate will also support?

Jenn: I think we should start and focus on the issues that I know we can build bridges with them on. So thinking of some of our new policy areas or some of our additional policy areas, healthy forestry policy, natural climate solutions, those are areas that Republicans have typically been meeting on for many, many years. And also CBAMs, we started working on this after our June lobby day and CCL volunteers had tremendous conversations with Republicans in the House and the Senate. But that’s an issue that Republicans are very engaged on in the Senate and in the House. So the more we can talk to them on some of these issues that already appeal, we can start building those bridges, strengthening those relationships and ultimately moving climate policy forward in a way that they’re open to and and engaged on.

Mindy: Thank you. And you know, what is the best way to talk to Republicans and really opening this conversation.

Ben: We’ve always thought it’s a really good place to start where they are. You know, start with the district and the state you’re in, the climate impacts that you’re seeing and tie it directly back to industries in the state and some of the benefits around climate action. I mean, one of the things we’ve really seen with the IRA, a lot of these benefits from that bill are going to flow to more rural districts and to some particularly red ones. And so that’s a great place to start some of this conversation. Talk about the aspects of jobs in the district and also the national security implications. We’ve certainly seen with everything going on this year with things going on in Ukraine and so forth, energy is a national security issue and I think most Republicans do see that.

Mindy: Thanks for bringing up national security because that also has been a theme that’s been running through some of these questions from our volunteers. Another question that I’ve seen around carbon pricing, there’s one question of what does the role of state level carbon pricing policies have towards our advancing a national carbon pricing agenda?

Ben: Well, some years ago we did do more work in state carbon pricing legislation because we thought it could build some pressure to act on the national level and that could still be the case. And if there are opportunities to advance state level carbon pricing, those are things we should certainly look at and how they’re designed. But there are these issues of like how does that work with the rest of the states? And you do have the issue, you can’t have a border carbon adjustment for the state of New York. So at the end of the day, we still need a national carbon price even if we start seeing movement on some of these state carbon pricing initiatives.

Mindy: Jenn, you talked a bit about the fair and equitable criteria in terms of electrification. And that’s another theme I’m seeing in some of the questions here is how do we work to protect low income households as we’re working towards electrification?

Jenn: Yeah, some of that is going to be in the implementation of the Inflation Reduction Act and looking at the policies that might come out over the next couple of years to kind of modify or tweak or improve some of those policies that were passed in the Inflation Reduction Act. And that’s what I talked about of the additional federal policies that might come out. There might be bills that come out that tweak, things that we can work on to build a bigger coalition and also address some of those equity concerns. 

And then also, this is where the local engagement comes in. We talked about working with your local elected officials. We’re gonna have a lot more guidance coming out on that in the beginning of the year of how do you engage on the local level talking to your communities, but also talking to your elected officials because a lot of those different criteria are gonna be set at the local and state level. So we will have a lot of guidance for people coming out in the next couple of months.

Mindy: Thank you. There’s also a question — there’s some that have heard that legislative deals will really be what President Biden and Mitch McConnell can come to an agreement on, thinking that potentially Representative McCarthy is going to be looking more to his more extreme right, and he’s looking at what to try and pass. So what are your thoughts on that? Are there specific things that we think that Biden and McConnell will be more interested in working on together?

Ben: Well, they will all have to come to some agreement because the Senate and Biden can’t move something alone. It will have to go eventually through the House of Representatives. So that’s was Jenn was talking about that we really need things that are bipartisan. We really think there’s that space in natural climate solutions and potentially for some of the permitting stuff, because no one House is going to be able to move anything and there’s going to have to be some cooperation and we’ll see who ends up being the Speaker of the House here — that has still not yet been decided. So we don’t even know the principals that will be negotiating these deals for sure yet.

Mindy: Thank you. I just noticed there’s another question bubbling up to please explain what is a marker bill?

Ben: A marker bill is a bill that you put out and you introduce to use it as a vehicle to gain co-sponsors and show support for something, but you don’t necessarily expect it to pass on its own. You expect it to get wrapped up in something like a big reconciliation package or like omnibus bill at the end of the year now or a future like Farm Bill. So it’s a vehicle to show you something has enough support that leadership is shooting to include it in a bigger package.

Mindy: Right. And we have just one minute left. So the big question that keeps being asked, do we think that the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act has a chance of being reintroduced in the next Congress?

Jenn: Absolutely. We fully expected to be reintroduced. We’re still waiting on additional details and we’ll know more when we get closer to it, but as soon as we have a bill, obviously everyone will be alerted. But we’re also keeping our eyes open for other carbon pricing bills that will be hopefully introduced in the next year.