Despite a late winter snow storm, 16 E2 members flew to Washington DC in late March to put their valuable business experience and passion for a better environment to use in advocating for smart policies out of Washington. With a Congress just emerging from complete partisan gridlock and the administration picking up steam on finally addressing the largest sources of climate change causing carbon pollution, our members once again found themselves in DC at the right time to make a difference.

After a government shutdown in October 2013, many doubted whether Congress would ever conquer the partisan gridlock that has created one of the least productive legislative sessions in decades. However, popular backlash, lawmaker weariness, and a tweak of the rules on nominations, helped create breakthroughs on some of the thorniest policy disagreements. By the end of the year, budget negotiations had reached a two-year compromise, agreement on a new Farm bill was within reach and both Senate and House started work on energy and tax policies.

While Congress sparred, the administration slowly moved ahead with implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan.  EPA released an updated version of the carbon pollution standard for new power plants in December, a panel of state, local and tribal leaders gathered to discuss how to address the impacts of climate change, and the Energy Department continued to set new efficiency standards and issue grants and loans to clean energy projects.  Most importantly, EPA began work on the carbon pollution standard for existing power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse gas pollution.

Facing this situation, our members came in ready to advocate on three keys issues, restoring clean energy tax incentives, supporting action on climate change mitigation and adaptation, and urging support for advanced non-food based biofuels.  Our arrival conveniently coincided with Senate action on the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill, new Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Ron Wyden’s push to restore expired clean energy tax incentives and EPA’s final weeks of drafting the carbon pollution standard.

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L-R:John Huber, Naveen Sikka, Bryce Smith, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono, Judith Albert, Dave Belote

After a dinner briefing to review our meetings and prepare our conversations, the delegates split into four teams the next day to meet with administration and Congressional offices.  In total we met with 39 Senate and House offices representing 23 states and 4 executive branch offices. (A full schedule of our meetings can be found here and here.)One of this year’s objectives was to expand our work with Republican lawmakers, who have recently been in opposition to action on our policy priorities, build a better understanding of their concerns and begin a constructive dialogue on how they too can engage positively.  In pursuit of this goal our teams met with the Speaker Boehner’s top energy advisor, Majority Leader Cantor’s staff, Sen. Thune of South Dakota, Sen. Crapo of Idaho and top staff for Sens. Toomey, Kirk, Fischer, Heller, and Ayotte.  We also met with Democratic leadership staff including staff with Sens. Reid, Schumer, Murray, and Rep. Van Hollen, as well as with Sen. Wyden and his staff in preparation for the Finance committee’s mark-up of clean energy tax incentives legislation.

One of the key messages for members of Congress was that clean energy is working in their states and Congress needs to continue supporting that growth.  Our recently released Clean Energy Works For Us annual report found more than 78,000 clean energy and clean transportation jobs had been announced in 2013 at 260 projects. This new data, in combination with delegates’ personal experiences helped us make the case that Congress should support the restoration of tax credits, vote in favor of the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency bill and allow EPA to do its job and release standards for carbon pollution from power plants.

This message was met with support from both sides of the aisle, with the caution that partisan tensions could once again arise to prevent Congress from acting. Sadly, in just the last two weeks this prediction came true as both Shaheen-Portman and the tax extenders bills became mired in partisan disagreements on process and failed to break through GOP filibusters.

Perhaps some of the most enlightening meetings for our members were with the various administrative offices that are working on implementing the President’s Climate Action Plan.  Setting a positive tone for the trip was a morning meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy who discussed the hard work that had gone into designing the existing source standard and confirmed that outreach to businesses and groups like E2 had helped the agency design a rule that would allow flexibility and encourage innovation.  Ms. McCarthy was enthusiastic about E2’s broad platform of business support for the carbon regulations, including traditional business, national security, farm and faith perspectives, and encouraged us to take our advocacy efforts to the states where implementation of the policy will be decided.

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L-R:David Kolsrud, Geoff Chapin, Don Reed, Marc Boom

Our team also met with the new head of the Council on Environmental Quality Mike Boots and the Deputy Director of Climate Policy Rick Duke for a discussion on the President’s Climate Action Plan and how E2’s member could further engage with the administration on the plan’s implementation. Here as well, E2’s work on the issue was greatly appreciated and it was made clear that the White House will continue to seek feedback on the plan from businesses.

Finally, our teams also met with officials from USDA and the Energy Department to hear about the various programs to develop clean energy and to prepare our energy and agricultural systems for the challenges of addressing climate change.  Both agencies are working on innovative solutions and it was a wonderful opportunity for our members to discuss how these solutions play out on the ground, what challenges need to be worked on, and how our community might be able to help refine them.

Beyond meetings on the Hill and with federal agencies, the trip provided an important opportunity for E2 members to get to know one another better and build on the common purpose that brought us together as members in the first place.  Everyone who attended is working in relevant and innovative fields, so activities like the member dinner after the first day provided an important opportunity to rehash the day’s events and get to know one another better.

Our dinner speaker, Dan Utech, senior advisor to President Obama on Energy and Climate Change, addressed how the President’s Climate Plan rests on the shoulders of entrepreneurs and innovators like those in the room.  Support from businesses, investors, and community leaders willing to take on the challenge of addressing climate change will ensure it succeeds and that our economy grows at the same time.

Our other dinner speaker was Deputy Under Secretary of the Navy Tom Hicks, who presented the progress the US military, and specifically the Navy, has made in the last 5 years to transition to cleaner, renewable fuels, and more efficiency on ships and bases in an attempt to meet the energy challenges of the next century and do their part in addressing the national security threat presented by climate change.  It was a crucial reminder of the global nature of climate change and how it threatens operating models of all sectors of society.

With the launch of the most important part of the President’s Climate Action Plan on June 2nd, this trip served as an important way for our members to connect directly with those in the federal government creating the carbon pollution standard.  Not only were we able to educate the decision makers of Washington with our perspective on how carbon pollution standards will benefit the country, but it reinforced how much those same policymakers are looking to members of groups like E2 to help them move the ball forward on this issue.  In the next two weeks, the rest of the country should finally take notice of what the President is doing to act on climate. E2 is ready to advocate for strong standards and indeed our members have been doing so passionately for years to get us to this point.

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