On June 26, 2009, while many of us Unitarian Universalists were gathered at General Assembly, the American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454) came up for a vote in the House of Representatives. The projected vote was so close that we felt compelled to interrupt the scheduled business of GA and ask participants to use their cell phones to call their Representatives. ACES (or the Waxman-Markey bill, as it is more commonly called) passed that day, 219 to 212. When news of its passage came there was joy, relief, and regret. Joy for what was a historic achievement, a comprehensive overhaul of our energy policies, and an important first step to addressing the pressing issues of climate change. Relief because the victory had been hard fought. And regret because the bill that passed was in the end much less than we had hoped for.
Shortly before ACES was voted on, I wrote a rather long blog post reflecting on how it had gotten to be that we were supporting a bill that has some admittedly serious flaws, and why it was important to still act. At the time, I already knew that the fossil fuel industries had been spending tens of millions of dollars to weaken and/or derail the bill. I knew that some of the claims (such as skyrocketing energy costs for families) were outright lies preying on fear. But what I didn’t know was that one of their lobbying firms had resorted to even greater levels of deception. Using the names and letterhead of organizations of color, Bonner & Associates sent fraudulent letters to at least three Representatives, urging them to oppose ACES. One of the organizations that they impersonated and misrepresented was a local chapter of the NAACP; the NAACP supports ACES because of the green jobs it will create.
We are up against opponents who will lie and commit fraud in order to maintain their lucrative stranglehold on our nation’s energy sources. But we are also up against our own apathy. The most painful thing that we had to admit on the eve of the historic vote was that, honest or not, our opponents had been out there making their views known to the people who were going to cast the votes and we had not been. I don’t mean to say that our side did nothing. Organizations like 1Sky and others worked hard to not only get the bill passed but to insert key strengthening amendments that made it more just. And UU groups from the UUA to the State Advocacy Networks joined them. But most of our efforts came in the final push. When talking to staffers of various Representatives, what we heard over and over again was that they had not been hearing from us during the process – during the deliberations in committees, while measures were being put in and taken out. They had not heard from people who wanted the bill to be stronger. They had heard from people who wanted it to be weaker or didn’t want it at all. So what we got was a weaker climate-energy bill, and we almost didn’t get one at all.
So why am I reliving these past mistakes now? Because the conversation isn’t over. ACES passed in the House on June 26th. The conversation now moves to the Senate, which has said that it will use ACES as the starting point to draft its own version. And once again the fossil fuel industries are spending tens of millions of dollars to further weaken and/or derail the process (and using dirty tricks). We need to be out there telling our Senators that we want climate change legislation, and we want it to be even stronger and more just than the version that passed in the House. What’s more, we need to be out there explicitly as Unitarian Universalists. Rightly or wrongly, our elected representatives listen more attentively to constituents who identify themselves as people of faith. And for the most part right now, they are hearing from self-identified religious people who oppose climate change legislation. They must hear from us too.
August 10th begins the Senate summer recess – a time when your Senators come home to listen to you (so that you don’t have to go all the way to DC). Get some members of your congregation (and/or team up with neighboring congregations) and welcome your senators home to your beautiful state. Remind them that you are their constituent, and then tell them that it’s crucial that they pass strong and just climate change legislation as soon as they get back to DC. The simplest (and possibly most fun) way to do that is to attend a 1Sky beach party. 1Sky is holding “welcome back” parties for senators across the country on August 10th. If you can’t make that date, you and fellow UUs can schedule an in-district visit later in the month.
Let your senators know that as a Unitarian Universalist, someone who believes that we are part of an interdependent web of creation, it is our moral imperative to pass effective and just climate change-energy legislation now.
Reassure them that a comprehensive climate-energy bill will preserve the environment, free us from dependence on fossil fuels that compromise our national security, and create millions of jobs in a new clean energy economy. It’s win-win.
Tell them that Unitarian Universalists respect science, and the science tells us that we need to cut carbon emissions, at least 20 percent by 2020.
Tell them that the bill must limit offsets to no more than 10 percent of the emissions cap. Anything greater would compromise the effectiveness of the cap and put undue burden on communities of color.
Tell them that UUs stand on the side of economic justice and therefore, they need to maximize the number of allowances used to create clean energy jobs and train workers to fill them. The Senate bill must also maintain (or improve) the transition assistance that the House version has.
Tell them you want stronger a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) and Energy Efficiency Resource Standard (EERS). Urge them to:
- Co-sponsor S. 433, Senator Tom Udall’s “25 by 25” RES
- Support Senator Schumer’s stand-alone EERS Amendment (based on S. 548
If you simply cannot make it to your Senators offices, we understand. Use 1Sky’s online tool to fax your senators. Do what you can and please do it soon.
Grist magazine is tracking where your senators stand on climate change.