Chicago Area Volunteers Lobby Congress for a Tax on Carbon

On June 25, as President Obama unveiled his plans to address climate change, Citizens' Climate Lobby (CCL) volunteers, including seven from Oak Park and the Chicago metro, were among 370 citizen-lobbyists who swarmed over Capitol Hill to make the case for a revenue-neutral carbon tax.  Teams of CCL volunteers met with 423 Senators and US Representatives, or their energy and environment aides.

Chicago area volunteers met with a dozen Congressional offices that day, including both of our Illinois Senators and Chicago-area US Representatives, but also members of Congress from very conservative parts of the country where CCL is under-represented. The vibes we got, even from the GOP aides, were much more positive than last year. In contrast to attitudes on the Hill a year ago, this year GOP staff were interested in delving into the details of our proposal, and Democrats were clear in their advice to 'organize the people' to support a carbon tax as the most effective countermeasure to surging greenhouse gas levels.

Keynote conference speakers included Dr. James Hansen, the outspoken scientist who warned of climate change some 20 years ago and who recently retired from NASA in order to take a stronger advocacy role in the climate movement.  The conference was also addressed by Dr. Shi-Ling Hsu, the author of The Case for a Carbon Tax. Dr. Hsu stayed for the entire conference and added his deep knowledge of science and economics to the conversations on Capitol Hill.

Much to our advantage, just as the CCL volunteers appeared for afternoon appointments in Congressional offices, TVs were tuned to the President's speech at Georgetown University unveiling his climate action plan. The President announced pollution standards for both new and existing power plants, among other regulatory measures that he can take without new legislative authority. Interestingly, the point was not lost on congressional staff that conservatives who dislike regulations on principle should be supporting a carbon tax bill. Carbon-based fuels enjoy an advantage over clean technologies because their costs to society--in health, public safety, national security, jobs, and environmental destruction--are not reflected in their price. Correcting this distortion would reduce the demand for fossil fuels.

Mark Reynolds, Executive Director of Citizens Climate Lobby, said, “We’re here to tell Congress there’s still time for them to act, particularly if they want to avoid the use of increased regulations to reduce heat-trapping gases. The clock has started on the process that will eventually result in the use of EPA regulations to reduce carbon pollution in the energy sector,” said Reynolds. “Is this what Republicans want? Or would they prefer using a market-based solution that speeds the transition from fossil fuels to clean energy? We believe this solution – a tax on carbon that gives all the revenue back to the public – could be embraced by conservatives.... That’s the message our volunteers are taking to Republican offices today,” said Reynolds.  “The President’s speech couldn’t be better timed,” said Reynolds. “It gives Republicans a good reason to take a serious look at a revenue-neutral carbon tax. Like objects in a passenger-side mirror, the tipping point for a carbon tax might be closer than it appears.”

Related Resources:

      • NPR’s Report on a Climate Tax:  “Economists have a One-Page Solution to Climate Change” – aired on Morning Edition on June 28, 2013 (5 min).
      • A brief, engaging video from the Citizens Climate Lobby conference which features Sylvia Garcia Sadowski, leader of the Chicago North Side Chapter--the newest group in the rapidly expanding Chicagoland Citizens' Climate Lobby network (10 min):

      • President Obama’s Speech on Climate Change Plans at Georgetown University, June 25, 2013 (50 min):
      • Citizens' Climate Lobby, is a grassroots volunteer effort with a very small staff supporting over 100 chapters across the U.S. and Canada, including a large Chicago contingent. For more information on the Chicago-West Side and west suburban group contact Ken O'Hare at 773-485-7716 or