CCL’s promise: We will pass a carbon fee bill by the end of 2017

Mark Reynolds

CCL Executive Director Mark Reynolds on the first day of CCL’s conference in Washington.

CCL’s promise: We will pass a carbon fee bill by the end of 2017

By Mark Reynolds

Forgive me if I’m feeling a little exposed at the moment, but I just made a really big promise. This isn’t a tell your daughter you’ll take her to the zoo on Saturday kind of promise. We’re talking JFK “We’re going to put a man on the moon” kind of promise.

This morning, at the start of CCL/CCE 2016 International Conference, I stood in front of hundreds of CCL group leaders and congressional liaisons – the people who are the heart and soul of our organization – and I made the following promise:

By the end of 2017, we will have Congress pass a bill that places a fee on carbon and returns the revenue to households.

What kind of crazy person makes such a promise? Seriously, there are so many moving parts and variables involved in making this happen that are totally outside my ability to control. What gives me the audacity to say we can do this? Looking around the room at the faces of the people I was making this promise to, the answer was right in front of me. I would never entertain such an outlandish thought – let alone say it out loud – if it were not for our amazing volunteers.

Volunteers like Jay Butera, who two years ago saw the potential of bringing Republicans and Democrats together in Florida – even though he lives in Pennsylvania – to combat the growing threat of rising sea levels. Armed with nothing but his own determination, he flew down to south Florida and recruited the volunteers who would form the Miami CCL chapter. He painstakingly secured endorsements for climate action from mayors, city councils and chambers of commerce that convinced Republican members of Congress in those districts that it was time to commit to taking action. His efforts eventually led to Republican Carlos Curbelo and Democrat Ted Deutch uniting to launch the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus, which now has sixteen members with equal numbers from both sides of the aisle.

Still, my heart was in my throat when I asked, “Who’s with me? Stand up if you’re with me.” When everyone stood up, my knees stopped shaking.

Again, though, why make such a promise? Why not play it safe, hedge our bets a little and just say we’ll get a bipartisan bill introduced and stop at that?

Well, bills that get introduced in Congress are a dime a dozen. The only ones that count are the ones that get passed. And the truth is we’re running out of time. We’re getting dangerously close to the tipping point of no return on greenhouse gas emissions. It’s time for Congress to pass the most efficient and effective solution on climate change – a steadily-rising, revenue-neutral fee on carbon. We can’t wait another five years until the “right” people get elected. To paraphrase former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld: You don’t save the world with the Congress you wish you had; you save the world with the Congress you have.

And that is what we intend to do. By the end of 2017.

Sometimes people feel restricted by commitments or big promises. I think the opposite is true. I think it’s very freeing. What I like about our promise is that it doesn’t depend on any circumstances over the next 18 months. Trump could become president. Every Republican on the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus could lose re-election. What does that tell me about our promise? It tells me it’s still our promise.

By making this bold declaration, this commitment, we are energizing our staff and thousands of volunteers — who have already demonstrated their ability to do the nearly impossible — to find another gear within themselves and do what many consider to be impossible.

With this promise, we also tap into and unleash a force that only manifests itself when a powerful commitment is made. Many years ago, W.H. Murray described that power in his book, The Scottish Himalayan Expedition:

But when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money – booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

‘Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.

Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!’

Making this commitment – to pass a bill by the end of 2017 – brought to mind another great commitment made with the birth of our nation. The final sentence of the Declaration of Independence says it all:

“With a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.”

Mark Reynolds is Executive Director of Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

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.