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Don’t Worry, “We’ve Got 41 Years”


"This is 2009. We’ve got 41 years in this deal, and we shouldn’t be so worried about the first 10 years."

Congressman Mike Doyle, Environment and Energy Daily, May 7, 2009

I had no plans that morning as I woke up and turned on my computer to spend the afternoon in the D.C. office of Congressman Mike Doyle. But then I read this line in an article on the status of efforts to cobble together a piece of climate legislation in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

I remember my physical reaction as I read these words, my head shaking back and forth, some trembling and an upwelling of deep, livid anger. "This is the last straw," I remember thinking.

And involuntarily in my head, I began singing the words to the Bob Dylan song, Masters of War.

I discovered Bob Dylan and Masters of War in the summer of 1968. I was 18 years old, home from college after my freshman year at Grinnell College. I was working on the Presidential campaign of Bobby Kennedy. I had begun doing so after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 4th. Then on June 6th, Kennedy was assassinated. All summer, as I worked on the maintenance staff of a local college, the words to Masters of War kept going through my head over and over as I despaired over the state of the world, the state of my country.

"You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world
For threatening my baby
Unborn and unnamed
You ain’t worth the blood
That runs in your veins."

And that’s why I went to Mike Doyle’s office at 2 pm yesterday and told Pat Cavanaugh, his energy staff person, that I was a long-time climate activist on the 18th day of a hunger strike (www.fastingforourfuture.org) for strong climate legislation and that I wasn’t leaving until I met with Doyle.

I’ve done sit-ins before. I and two other people did one in 2002 in New Jersey when I was a Green Party candidate for the U.S. Senate. We sat in the offices of one of my opponents, Frank Lautenberg, to protest his refusal to allow myself and other "third party" candidates to be part of any debates. After nine hours, we won, and about a week later a nationally-televised C-Span debate was held that included all six candidates who had qualified for this particular race.

And in December of 2007, at the tail end of the long climate emergency fast I did that fall, 20 of us occupied the Capitol Hill office of Senator Mitch McConnell after he led the Senate Republicans in their stripping out of anything and everything having to do with renewable energy from a House-passed energy bill. Two of us, my wife Jane Califf and I, were arrested after spending the day in McConnell’s office because we refused to willingly leave at 6 pm when the office was closed.

But as I sat in Doyle’s office, no one with me, none of the press people who I called showing up to find out what was happening, thinking about what was going to happen at 6 pm, wondering if I had been too impulsive, wondering what would happen if I was arrested–because I was very clear that it was either talk with Doyle or that–wondering, wondering. . . after two hours of sitting, into the office comes Mike Doyle.

I’d never met the guy, so at first I didn’t know it had happened when he arrived. But when he sat down across from me and said something like, "I’m Mike Doyle, what’s up," I knew it was game time. And for the next half hour I had the most intense, in-your-face, no-holds-barred discussion with an elected official I have ever had.

Doyle’s no dummy, and I have to acknowledge that he’s a strong debater. I didn’t get him to change his mind about the efforts that he and Rick Boucher have been leading to weaken the "discussion draft" of climate legislation Henry Waxman introduced on March 31st. The way Doyle described it, he was doing the bidding of Waxman, carrying water for him by going to the blue dog Democrats to find out what was necessary in order to get a bill out of committee. He also said his main thing was the 15% free emissions permits for steel, cement, aluminum and other energy-intensive industries during a 10-15 year transition period. But when I asked him why he was then supporting the idea that 40% of the permits would be given free to coal companies/utilities (local distribution companies), the best answer he could give was something like this, a very revealing answer:

"If you return money directly to the American people for them to use to pay for higher energy costs in the transition period, they’ll spend it on things like flat screen TV’s. By giving free emissions permits to utilities they can then pass on the savings directly to consumers."

I wasn’t and am not convinced. Giving money to profit-making coal companies like Duke Power and Peabody is going to end up helping consumers? Please. All it will do is delay the urgently-needed shift from fossil fuels to renewables and efficiency.

By the end of our half-hour discussion, the decibel level had been dialed down several notches, we were agreeing that we wished President Obama was giving much stronger leadership on this issue, and he was telling me that there was some interest among Energy and Commerce committee members in what was being discussed within Ways and Means (carbon tax and/or cap and dividend approaches). As we shook hands and parted company, I thanked him for being willing to talk and he commended me for being a gentleman.

Sometimes you just have to act upon what you feel is right. And it is right to feel outrage over the power that corporate polluters in both parties have over our political process. It’s time to blow the whistle and shine the spotlight on those liars and deceivers.

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