For Climate Action, Persuading a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill in 2020

Brian Ettling getting ready to lobby Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill, June 11, 2019.

“We have a hot tip for you!” my friend John Van Leer and I shared with staff of a member of Congress on June 11, 2019.

We just came out of a productive meeting with the staff of Democratic U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson, Florida District 24. During the staff indicated to us that there was a good possibility Representative Wilson could be open to co-sponsoring a climate bill we met with her office to urge her to support a climate bill, The Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

John Van Leer and I were part of a lobby team that met with Rep. Wilson’s office during the lobby day happening with Congressional Offices as part of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) June 2019 Conference in Washington D.C. At that conference, over 1,000 CCL traveled from across the United States to lobby 528 Congressional Offices on Capitol Hill.

At that time, we lobbied members of Congress to support and even co-sponsor the EICDA. This bill would have put a fee on carbon pollution to speed up the switch to 100% clean energy. The money collected from fossil fuel companies would then go back to Americans in the form of a monthly dividend check so that all Americans could afford the transition.

Brian Ettling attending a Citizens’ Climate Lobby conference in Washington D.C. in June 2017.

As a climate organizer, I have volunteered with CCL since 2012. Thus, for years, I believed that putting a price on carbon is a top solution to reduce the threat of climate change. As long as I had been involved with CCL, they affirm that putting a price on carbon with a carbon fee and dividend is “the single most powerful tool available to reduce America’s carbon pollution.”

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch from Florida introduced the first version of this carbon pricing bill in Congress in 2018. He re-introduced the EICDA in April 2021, with along with 28 House co-sponsors. It was a big priority since 2018 for CCL volunteers to help Rep. Deutch get more co-sponsors for this bill. Eventually, through our lobbying he enabled Rep. Deutch to have 96 co-sponsors for the EICDA.

As a very committed and enthusiastic CCL volunteer, I was personally determined to persuade a member of Congress to co-sponsor the EICDA. These CCL Congressional Lobby days happen twice a year, typically the second Tuesday in June and the second Tuesday in November. For those of us attending these conferences, we would typically have around 4 to 5 Congressional lobby meetings on Capitol Hill. CCL would generally assign a lobbying team for each meeting of around 5 CCL volunteers, with a priority for constituents of that member of Congress to attend those meetings.

CCL tries to email a schedule of which Congressional offices the attendees will be lobbying on Capitol Hill several days before the conference. This helps the volunteer participants to start planning their meetings and organizing with the other lobby team participants in advance. With these schedules, the participants know the times and locations of the Congressional Offices beforehand. This information is helpful to know where to go for the lobby day to navigate the 535 Congressional offices spread out over five office buildings.

Occasionally, CCL assigns participants Congressional lobby meetings with the note of “TBD”, meaning “To be determined.” That means the Congressional Office has not yet scheduled a time for a lobby meeting. The Congressional office usually does find a time on their schedule for the lobby day, sometimes giving the meeting time the day before. This was the case for the meeting with staff of Rep. Fredericka Wilson. I received my CCL Congressional Lobby Day schedule on Thursday, June 6th with a TBD noted.

The lobby leader for this meeting, John Van Leer, did not get a confirmed meeting from Rep. Wilson’s office until 2:21 pm on Monday, June 10th. It was set for 10:30 am the next day, Tuesday June 11th. Until I received that meeting time, I was unsure if I would fit into my schedule with the other lobby meetings that I would be attending on the lobby day. The good news is that it did fit into my lobby day schedule for June 11th. The bad news was that I was not able to make the preparation meeting for the lobby team at 7 pm on that Monday, due to other lobby prep meetings I was participating. Thus, I would be “winging it” for this meeting on Tuesday.

Brian Ettling (far left) as with a group of Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteers as well as staff of Congresswoman Frederica Wilson at Rep. Wilson’s office on June 11, 2019.

I was able to meet with the other five lobby team participants in front of Rep. Wilson’s Congressional office 15 minutes before the meeting started to develop a lobby plan. I had no idea before I stepped into this Congressional office that this turned out to be the most rewarding lobby meeting that I had ever attended. Since 2015, this was my 7th time attending a CCL Congressional Lobby Day on Capitol Hill. During that time, I lobbied the staff of progressive and conservative members of Congress. Before that meeting, I never had any luck persuading them to support carbon fee and dividend or the Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act (EICDA).

CCL heavily emphasizes to lobby participants not to share what happens inside these meetings so that we can maintain a trusted level of confidentiality with these offices. Having noted that, I still want to share what I saw in the lobby meeting since it was such an amazing experience. Besides the six CCL volunteers including me, two interns and a Legislative Correspondent, Devin Wilcox, from Rep. Wilson’s staff met with us in the meeting room in her office.

The interns and Devin asked excellent questions about the EICDA to see if this could be something that Rep. Wilson could possibly support. They were “kicking the tires” to look for any weaknesses that could be a deal breaker for them. As the meeting progressed, we got a very positive vibe from Devon. He even explained one aspect of carbon fee and dividend to the interns better than an answer that we could have given them. He seemed to be clearly on our side.

I very distinctly heard Legislative Aide Devon Wilcox say towards the end of the meeting that he felt his boss Rep. Wilson could easily co-sponsor our bill. John Van Leer and I kept chatting with Devon even after the meeting was over.

I asked Devon if he would have a conversation with Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff about the EICDA.

His response: ‘That’s easy! They are right next door.’

I told Devon that CCL has an office nearby in Washington D.C. and asked him if it was ok if CCL reached out to him. He was very agreeable and receptive to that.

When I mentioned that Democratic Rep. Barbara Lee was a co-sponsor of our bill. Devon got excited: ‘We really like her!’ He seemed very impressed that Rep. Lee was on board.

I remembered Devon wanted to get in the weeds with us on a level that the paid experts, such as Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff and CCL DC staff should be answering his questions.

John Van Leer and I left the meeting in total agreement that Rep. Frederica Wilson and her office, especially with Legislative Assistant Devon Wilcox, was amiable with our policy and bill. We agreed that Rep. Wilson was a great candidate to be a co-sponsor for our bill.

Brian Ettling and Citizens’ Climate Lobby volunteer John Van Leer. Photo taken on June 11, 2019.

John and I both felt like ‘the iron was hot’ after our conversation with Devon Wilcox. We believed strongly that this should be on the radar of CCL Washington D.C. staff and Rep. Ted Deutch’s staff. We felt like CCL DC office and possibly Rep. Ted Deutch’s office should reach out to Devon and Rep. Frederica Wilson’s office soon.

Thus, John and I immediately walked across the hall to Rep. Ted Deutch’s office to see if we could meet with his Energy Aide, Josh. The receptionist tracked him down for us.

“We have a hot tip for you!” John Van Leer and I shared with Josh as we recalled what just happened in Rep. Fredericka Wilson’s office. This aide took notes and a keen interest from our meeting. We encouraged him to reach out to Devon as soon as possible to answer the questions that we could not.

During the lunch break at one of the Congressional cafeterias, I shared with Danny Richter, then the CCL Vice President of Government Affairs, what happened at the meeting in Rep. Wilson’s office. Danny seemed skeptical at first. He thought maybe I was exaggerating how well the meeting went. However, I did follow up with an email to Danny, including sending a screenshot of Devon’s business card.

One week later, Danny did respond to my email in a more receptive way:
“Thanks Brian,
appreciate you following up. We have a meeting with Josh scheduled to follow up on highlights from the conference, and this is on our list to discuss.
Good to see you again!

After the June 2019 conference, I would check in with John Van Leer and other Florida CCL friends around once a month to see if they were having any success in persuading Rep. Frederica Wilson to co-sponsor the EICDA (also known then as H.R. 763). Nothing much seemed to be happening, but my Florida CCL friends appreciated when I would prod them now and then for any progress. The situation felt hopeful that if a volunteer or staff person from CCL could meet with Devin, I felt confident that we could close the deal for Rep. Wilson to co-sponsor our bill.

In January 2020, my friend, Greg Hamra, who lives in Miami, Florida, sent me an email that “Apparently Frederica Wilson is coming along.” He shared an email thread from another CCL volunteer that “This is exciting news that Rep. Wilson indicated that she is planning to co-sponsor H.R. 763”

Finally, on Febuary 24, 2020, I saw on the EICDA website that Rep. Frederica Wilson had officially co-sponsored the EICDA. It was such a joy to announce this publicly on my Facebook and Twitter. I shared that “I was (part of a team) lobby meeting with her DC office last June that helped persuade her to become a co-sponsor. This is one of my proudest moments as a #climate organizer!”

Screenshot photo of U.S. Representative Frederica Wilson taken from

Why am I telling you this now?

To this day, this is still one of my proudest moments as a climate organizer to play a role in persuading a member of Congress to co-sponsor a climate bill. In my numerous other lobby meetings, I had no success like that. It felt like in some small way I had made some kind of difference in the world for climate action.

I meant to blog about this as soon as it happened in 2020. At that time, I was super busy lobbying on the state level volunteering with Renew Oregon to push a cap and invest bill during the Oregon Legislative session. Unfortunately, during the first week of March, Republicans walked out of the Oregon Legislature to prevent a vote, which killed the bill. This left me feeling very deflated. Even more, the COVID pandemic shutdown happened in mid-March 2020. That sent me into a very deep depression since I was no longer able to meet with people for climate action, organize events, attend lobby meetings, give climate presentations, and stay busy traveling outside of the home to act on climate.

My depression during the pandemic was so consuming that I did not write another blog entry until December 30, 2021. I am now determined to go back to tell the high and low parts of my climate change organizing story that I may have missed writing about previously over the years.

Looking back now, I feel very blessed to be able to accomplish what I have been able to achieve as a climate organizer. Now, I can say that I am very proud to be part of a team that helped persuade a member of Congress, Rep. Frederica Wilson, to co-sponsor a climate change bill.

I hope you will get involved with the climate movement to accomplish something as big or surpass me to achieve something bigger. Hopefully, you will out do me. If you do, I will be the first to congratulate you. If we can compete against each other for bigger climate actions, this will be a competition where the planet and all of us wins.