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Attending the State of the Union to highlight the climate crisis

Derek Kilmer Mike Kelly State of the Union

Rep. Derek Kilmer and CCL volunteer Mike Kelly before the 2020 State of the Union address

Attending the State of the Union to highlight the climate crisis

By Rep. Derek Kilmer

Seventy percent of Washingtonians understand that global warming is happening, and most are worried about it. A few weeks ago, those concerns were represented at the president’s State of the Union address in the other Washington (DC), as Mike Kelly, a pacific northwest climate activist, was in the audience as my guest of honor.

Mike runs a business on Bainbridge Island on the Puget Sound in Washington’s sixth congressional district and is raising two boys with his wife. He’s also a volunteer with Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL), a grassroots nonprofit focused on national policies to address climate change. Through CCL, Mike and other members of the community have brought their climate change concerns to the forefront of the national news. From outside the shadow of the space needle in an urban-community like Tacoma, to a rural historic timber town like Forks, to a sleepy coastal community like Ocean Shores, folks across the region I have the honor of representing have shared their concerns with me about rising sea levels, raging forest fires, and threats to local economies due to the warming climate.

I share their concerns. In my neck of the woods in the Pacific Northwest, we’re already seeing the impacts of climate change. At least four coastal tribes are in the process of trying to move to higher ground because of the threat of sea level rise. Catastrophic wildfires have threatened the health and safety of communities throughout the state. And our region’s largest employer, the U.S. Navy, identifies climate change as a threat multiplier that makes our world less safe. 

Climate change is real, and it requires bold action. That’s why I used the State of the Union to elevate the important work that Congress and CCL are doing to foster that bold action and called on the President to do the same. I’m grateful that under Mike’s leadership, the Bainbridge Island CCL volunteers have conducted community outreach events, published letters to the editor, and encouraged local businesses and municipalities to join their efforts to back meaningful climate legislation.

Thankfully, we are not alone in doing this important work. CCL has more than 20 chapters in Washington state, and hundreds more nationwide, all supported by more than 180,000 concerned citizens who want to see bold federal action on this pressing issue. As these citizens continue to engage in Washington, DC, and all across the country, their advocacy will make our democracy and our climate healthier. Indeed, Mike’s attendance at the State of the Union not only highlights the climate crisis—it highlights the fact that the voices and actions of everyday Americans are vital in making progress.

And their efforts are working. 

Over the past year we’ve seen unprecedented, bipartisan support for climate action. One of CCL’s top legislative priorities, the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (H.R. 763), was the first bipartisan carbon pricing proposal introduced in nearly a decade. This technology-neutral policy would drastically reduce emissions, benefitting both climate and public health. What’s more, by providing 100% of the net proceeds back to American households as a dividend, this proposal ensures that more than two-thirds of all Americans will see more money in their pockets and that our economy will grow. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Mike and other CCL members, this bill now has the support of 80 members of Congress!  


But limiting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is just one piece of the puzzle. That’s why the New Democrat Coalition (NDC) penned an ambitious agenda to address the climate crisis with the urgency it demands. The NDC Climate Change Principles, endorsed by its 103 members, create a clear roadmap for the U.S. to achieve economy-wide net-zero GHG emissions by 2050, that also focuses on investing in resilient communities and infrastructure, growing jobs in the green economy, and establishing the US as a global leader on combating the climate crisis. As a result, the House passed several bills in 2019 that would advance these principles, including two bills I introduced: the Tribal Coastal Resiliency Act (H.R. 729) and the Ocean Acidification Innovation Act (H.R. 1921).  

It was disappointing that the president failed to acknowledge the gravity of the climate crisis in his State of the Union address. When Mike and I sat in that important room for the State of the Union, we carried with us the priorities of millions of climate-concerned Americans. And when we walked out, we committed to continuing our work together to solve this crisis.

Rep. Derek Kilmer represents Washington’s sixth congressional district. Mike Kelly wrote about his attendance at the State of the Union in this Kitsap Sun op-ed, this Bainbridge Island Review op-ed, and it was also covered by the Bainbridge Island Review.