CCL celebrates 10 years of media success

Jay Butera Citizens' Climate Lobby media

Citizens’ Climate Lobby Senior Congressional Liaison Jay Butera has been featured in stories about CCL in the New York Times, NPR and “Years of Living Dangerously.” (Photo by Shawn Reeder)

By Steve Valk

Media has always been an important part of CCL’s political-will strategy. The fact that there is so much attention and discussion about pricing carbon—and that a simple carbon tax has emerged as the policy of choice—is attributable in large part to the tireless efforts of CCL and our volunteers who publish thousands of pieces each year.

As we celebrate our 10th anniversary, this is a good time to look back at some of our media successes, so here are the top 10 hits for CCL media.

10. FIRST LTE IN NEW YORK TIMES: In the summer of 2009, CCL was an unknown organization swimming against the cap-and-trade tide after passage of the Waxman-Markey bill in the House. Then, as now, we maintained that a simpler, more efficient and more effective way to reduce carbon emissions was with a revenue-neutral carbon fee. We planted our flag with this letter to the editor in the New York Times. Here’s an excerpt:

While it’s encouraging to see Congress taking steps to reduce global warming, the approach championed at the moment—cap and trade—is fraught with perils and ineffectiveness. The biggest drawback is the creation of a trillion-dollar market in carbon futures and derivatives, a speculator’s playground that has economic disaster written all over it.

If you read the rest of the letter, you’ll see that we go on to advocate for a tax swap instead of dividends. That’s because at the time we were supporting Rep. Bob Inglis’ bill, the “Raise Wages, Cut Carbon Act.”

9. CCL IN THE GUARDIAN: In 2013, we teamed up the Guardian blogger and Skeptical Science contributor Dana Nuccitelli for an op-ed that was published in the Sacramento Bee. Since then, Dana has been a big fan of CCL and is a supporter in the Sacramento chapter. Around the time of our 2013 D.C. conference, Dana published a wonderful piece about CCL and our Carbon Fee and Dividend proposal that ran in the Guardian, giving us valuable exposure to the climate-aware readers of the Guardian. Here’s an excerpt:

The question for those who understand the threat and urgency of climate change is then how to change this political calculus—how to close the gap between the will of the majority and the actions of Congress. Into this void steps a group called Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL). This group was formed with a very specific goal in mind—to organize and empower citizens to advocate for a carbon fee and dividend system.

8. CCL OP-ED IN COAL COUNTRY: Talking to CCL volunteer Ron Trimmer in southern Illinois in 2013, we heard about a young man installing solar panels on his roof who was a former coal miner. We thought it would make a great anecdote for a piece about the transition to clean energy and the jobs that would replace those in the fossil fuel industry. The op-ed from Mark was published in newspapers throughout coal country, from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette to the Charleston Gazette in West Virginia. His piece reflected CCL’s approach of gratitude and respect, in this case for the nation’s coal miners:

As the director of an organization whose goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, I know that our success will cut the demand for coal in our nation and perhaps globally. As demand for coal decreases, so will the number of jobs in coal mines.

This worries me a lot. I have the utmost respect for the men—and women—who put their health and lives at risk to keep our houses comfortable in the summer, our lights on at night, and our food from spoiling. In the race to save the planet, we cannot leave these hard-working people behind.

As I look at the numbers, I’m convinced that won’t happen: There are currently about 88,000 coal-mining jobs in the U.S. The Department of Energy predicts that by 2030, 20 percent of our electricity will be produced by wind, creating 500,000 jobs.

7. MARK’S MOST POPULAR OP-ED: Several times a year, we distribute op-eds from CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds. Thanks to our network of chapters who submit to their local newspapers, these op-eds usually get published in more than a dozen papers each time they’re sent. One particular op-ed, sent following our June conference in 2015, got a tremendous response from newspapers around the country. Perhaps it was due in part to the provocative headline—Everything you think you know about Republicans and climate change is wrong—but 38 newspapers picked up this op-ed. From Mark’s piece:

Despite the headlines, CCL has found in the past year that the propensity among congressional Republicans to dispute climate science has waned considerably. So why has that changed, and why were we ever arguing the science to begin with?

The answer, I believe, lies with the solutions being proposed, which all involved more government, more red tape and more regulations—things that are anathema to conservatives. Whether it was the 1,400-page cap-and-trade bill that failed to pass the Senate or the current Clean Power Plan to regulate carbon dioxide at electrical plants, Republicans aren’t seeing solutions to climate change that they can readily embrace.

Don’t like the solutions? Don’t admit that there’s a problem.

But what if there were a solution in harmony with the conservative values of less government and doing things that grow the economy, a market-friendly approach that doesn’t dictate which technologies win or how we should conduct our lives?

6. EDITORIAL ENDORSEMENTS: Perhaps the most leveraged media action that our volunteers undertake is getting editorial endorsements for Carbon Fee and Dividend. This often involves meeting with the editorial board of newspapers to make our pitch. The fact that we’ve generated these endorsements for a policy that has yet to be introduced in Congress is a testament to the persuasiveness and hard work of our volunteers. While it’s difficult to single out one editorial for our Top 10 list, the Santa Rosa chapter really knocked it out of the park with not one, but two endorsements in The Press Democrat. The first was published in October of 2015, and the second was published on Earth Day this year. Here’s an excerpt from the second editorial, which was published under the headline, “The Earth-saving plan even President Trump can support”:

But here’s one environment-saving program that even President Donald Trump can get behind. It’s one many conservatives, from former Secretary of State George Shultz to current Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have already endorsed and one that has some bipartisan support in Congress: The adoption of a carbon tax.

The idea is simple. Fossil fuel companies would be required to pay a fee on the carbon content of the fuels they extract. The policy, known as a Carbon Fee and Dividend system, would start with a fee of $15 per ton of CO₂ and would increase $10 per ton a year.

So what is there for Trump to like? The money would not go to the government. It would go directly to taxpayers through monthly dividend checks… Here’s one more selling point for President Trump: A 2014 economic study predicted that the system would generate 2.8 million new jobs.

This is an idea whose day has come. And we can think of no better day than this one.

5. CCL IN THE NEW YORK TIMES: In the spring of 2013, CCL was relatively unknown outside of the community of climate change advocates. That changed dramatically after David Bornstein of the New York Times published a “Fixes” piece titled “Lobbying for the Greater Good.” His article, which came about because of a pitch from CCL mentor Sam Daley-Harris, highlighted the work of CCL and RESULTS, the organization whose methodology we adopted. From the article:

The C.C.L. is a relatively unknown organization that punches above its weight.  Founded in 2007, the organization prepares citizens to be effective lobbyists, helping them build relationships with members of Congress and editorial page editors, showing them how to make persuasive arguments about policies to win bipartisan support. Currently, the group’s main focus is to build political will for a revenue-neutral carbon tax, a policy that has been supported by economists across the political spectrum and has demonstrated environmental and economic benefits, most recently, in the province of British Columbia and in Ireland. But a carbon tax faces serious political hurdles in the United States…

“The Citizens’ Climate Lobby is taking very sophisticated ideas and putting them into letters and op-eds and face-to-face meetings with members of Congress,” explained Bob Inglis, a South Carolina Republican who served 12 years in the House of Representatives and now directs the Energy and Enterprise Initiative at George Mason University. “I think they’ve moved the needle on this issue.”

4. E&E NEWS HIGHLIGHTS CCL APPROACH: The thing that sets Citizens’ Climate Lobby apart from most advocacy groups is the approach we take of admiration and respect for members of Congress, particularly those who disagree with us. As the Climate Solutions Caucus tripled its membership this year, people started to wonder what was fueling this surge. Arianna Skibell from E&E News, knowing that CCL played a leading role in the growth of the caucus, wrote a great piece about our approach under the headline, “How do you shift Republicans on climate? Be nice.” Here’s an excerpt:

Tom Moyer, a CCL volunteer who works with Rep. Mia Love (R-Utah), said it’s impossible to convince anyone of anything if you fundamentally don’t like them.

“If you walk in thinking they’re an idiot and evil, you’re done from the start, it doesn’t matter how logical your position is,” he said. “You have to put yourself in a place where you can find something to respect…”

After months of conversation, Love eventually joined the caucus last January.

“They come in and they say ‘this is a problem that we have, and we’re wondering if you can help us solve this problem’ instead of ‘you’re the problem,'” Love said at the time.

“It not only changed my mind about my involvement,” she said, “but really changed my heart about what we should be doing.”

3. CCL ON NPR: One of the most trusted and popular news sources in America is National Public Radio, and as our June conference approached this year, we reached out to NPR producer Jennifer Ludden to tell her about our upcoming lobby day and the work our volunteers have been doing to grow the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus. After connecting her with CCL Senior Congressional Liaison Jay Butera, NPR produced a wonderful segment that aired on All Things Considered on June 14, the day after our lobby day. Listen to the story:

2. NEW YORK TIMES FOLLOWS UP ON CCL: Four years after David Bornstein wrote his piece about CCL and RESULTS, he decided it was time to check in for an update. It appears he was blown away by the progress we had made in the interim—the growth of CCL, the formation of the Climate Solutions Caucus, and other indicators. After interviewing numerous CCL staffers and volunteers, he wrote a piece that exceeded our wildest expectations that was published under the headline, “Cracking Washington’s Gridlock to Save the Planet.” This is how it started:

One day, ideally in the not-too-distant future, when Congress finally passes major legislation to curb carbon emissions—to reduce the environmental and economic harm caused by climate change—Americans will owe a big thank you to the perseverance and discipline of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Special appreciation should go to one volunteer, Jay Butera, a businessman from Pennsylvania who has put intense effort into getting Democrats and Republicans in Congress to begin talking with one another about potential solutions.

1. “YEARS OF LIVING DANGEROUSLY”: A few years ago, while checking some of our new followers on Twitter, we came across a guy named Joel Bach. Looking at his profile, we discovered he was one of the producers for “Years of Living Dangerously,” the climate change documentary series. We made contact and arranged a call between Bach and CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds to fill him in on what CCL was doing to promote climate solutions in Congress. Impressed with our efforts, Bach kept in touch, and when the second season of “Years” went into production, the award-winning series decided to devote an episode to CCL that centered around Jay Butera. Celebrity correspondent Bradley Whitford and a film crew attended our 2016 conference and lobby day, and later that fall, the episode featuring CCL aired on the National Geographic Channel. Watch it below:


Steve Valk
Steve Valk is Communications Coordinator for Citizens' Climate Lobby. Steve joined the CCL staff in 2009 after a 30-year career with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Follow him on Twitter at @valklimate.