Never say never: A lobbying success story
CCL volunteer Teresa Welch serves as a liaison to her chapter’s Democratic member of Congress. Through persistent, thoughtful lobbying, Teresa and her chapter helped transform this lawmaker’s stance on carbon fee and dividend. Watch Teresa tell her story here, beginning at 1:18:00, or read her story below.
My story is a story about listening and perseverance. We worked with this member for about 12 years. When we started, he was adamantly opposed to carbon fee and dividend. There was nothing he wanted to have to do with it. We had some very cold lobby meetings to start out. We asked him about fee and dividend in every town hall, and every time, the answer we got was, “I will never support that policy.”
Part of our problem was that he didn’t differentiate between fee and dividend and cap-and-trade, which he absolutely despised. So our first task was education about what fee and dividend is, what it does, the benefits and how it differs from cap-and-trade. And we got over that hurdle. He got that. He reluctantly agreed that it was better than cap-and-trade, but he still was never going to support it.
Addressing the Congressman’s concerns
We said, well, what’s your biggest concern about it? And his concern was about the impact on low income people. So we did the CCL thing, which in that case was very easy to say, “Well, we totally share your concern.” Which we did! And then we offered to do some research that might help answer his concerns, so we did that.
We came back to our next meeting with a raft of talking points and a one-page handout that was packed full of data and information. His aide was blown away! She said, “This is great. This is exactly what he needs — this is so going to answer his concern.” And we felt great about it.
And we said well, does he have any other concerns? And he did. Along the similar lines, but different. So we went away and did the same thing again. And then we did it again. And again. And again. Because every time we dispensed with one concern, another one popped up. It was like a big game of whack-a-mole.
Listening unlocks a new path
Eventually, we got to the point where we felt like, “Man, we are stuck. What is this, anyway? Does he just not want to say no, but he can’t say yes?”
And then fortuitously, CCL had one of their training on deep listening. And we realized that for all of these years, we had been hearing very clearly what his stated concern was each time and responding to it. But what we were missing was the fact that every time he mentioned one of those problems, he always got in some comment about millionaires and billionaires. We realized what we were missing was a value — a deeply held value — a belief that was just visceral for him: that the inequality in this country is not acceptable. And therefore he could not accept the idea of millionaires and billionaires getting any dividend.
Once we realized that, we felt freed. We didn’t have to keep trying to get him to cosponsor the bill [Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act] because he wasn’t going to. We couldn’t change the bill. We couldn’t change his mind about that. But what we could do was build his support for everything else about fee and dividend, everything else about the bill except for that one little detail that he didn’t like. So that’s what we set out to do.
Shifting from opposition to support
In 2021, one of the committees he was on had a members day, which is sort of an open mic time and each member gets five minutes to say something that’s important to them. And he said in that meeting, “The solution to climate change is a carbon fee and dividend policy. Now, I don’t think that millionaires and billionaires should get any dividend, so I’m going to write my own fee and dividend bill that has a cap on income for the dividend.”
Well, this was his last year in Congress. He was completely wrapped up in a very big bipartisan bill that was going on that year, and he didn’t get around to writing a fee and dividend bill, which was not a surprise. But when the IRA [Inflation Reduction Act] was being debated, his aide told us that if fee and dividend or carbon pricing of any way, shape or form was in the IRA, he would support it.
So my words of wisdom are these: Listen, really listen. Persevere. And never let “never” be the final answer.