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Organizing for Action Says It Can’t Move Climate Change Legislation In Congress

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Friday, May 24 2013

Beleaguered on one side by pressure to take a stand on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline and hoping, on the other, to hang on to the activist energy of the president's progressive base, Organizing for Action leadership and partners aren't holding out much hope for the power of grassroots organizing to motivate action in Congress.

When asked whether Organizing for Action plans to push Congress to take any specific action on climate change legislation, such as enacting a carbon tax, Navin Nayak, the League of Conservation Voters' senior vice president of campaigns, basically said that it's impossible for now.

"Unfortunately, we have a Congress that is led in the House of Representatives by a climate denier," he said in a Wednesday evening conference call with OfA supporters, referring to House Speaker John Boehner. "As I mentioned, half of the Republican Caucus on both sides don’t believe that climate change is occurring because of human activity, and so, I don’t think we can really make the kind of progress we need to make in the long term, whether it’s a carbon tax, whether it’s a limit on carbon across the economy ... I think what we’ve got to do is change the politics of these issues."

Nayak further equated the politics of climate change in Congress to the politics of gun control: Unpopular and unlikely to gain any traction in Congress because of the composition of the House and rules of the Senate.

OfA launched a new "climate denier" campaign this week, calling on its members to call out in person and online the members of Congress who have spoken out against the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. The group has listed and mapped dozens of members of the House and Senate who've made statements on the issue, and linked their profiles to a pre-written Twitter message that site visitors can click on to send that member of Congress a messages saying: "Stop denying the science of #climate change. It's time for Congress to act."

The problem is that OfA isn't advocating for any specific piece of legislation. The group has also come under fire from the liberal part of the party who are upset that OfA is declining to lobby President Obama to decline the application to extend the Keystone Pipeline. The proposed $7 billion pipeline would transport oil from Canada’s Alberta tar sands to Texas. Its proponents say that it will provide the United States with energy security and create jobs, while its opponents charge that the the process of extracting the oil from the tar sands is so energy intensive that the production of this kind of oil, in addition to the extra amount of carbon that the use of such oil would emit, would amount to an environmental disaster that would wipe out any gains made from other climate-friendly initiatives.

Several news outlets reported last week that OfA leaders circulated a talking points memo that direct volunteers to point to the State Department approval process if they were asked about Keystone, which according to a poll published this April has the support of 66 percent of Americans. The poll, conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, found that just 23 percent of those surveyed opposed it. It also found that 54 percent of Democrats favored the development of the pipeline, as do 70 percent of independents and 82 percent of Republicans. Other polling groups have published similar findings.

But the pipeline's potential impact has rankled environmental activists among the progressive left, who have vowed to use OfA's "grassroots" structure to urge the group towards action on Keystone. While OfA plans a "day of action" on May 29th where OfA members will hold a series of events targeting members of Congress who have been deemed "climate deniers," CREDO is asking members to go to OfA planning meetings and urge action on Keystone in particular.

"I would say the bottom line is Democrats who also oppose the Keystone XL are doing exactly what President Obama and OFA is telling us to do — be the change we wish to see in our communities and country," said Jane Kleeb, a spokeswoman for Bold Nebraska, one of the groups calling on Obama to block the development of the pipeline. "They asked us to be active citizens. They told us the only way to get things done is for the people to show their power. So we are doing exactly that and will not stop organizing, educating, protesting and showing up at Obama and OFA events until they do right by families and made-in-the USA energy."

Nayak did not discuss Keystone during the call, although LCV is part of an environmental coalition that wrote a letter to the State Department's Office of the Inspector General to investigate the department's pipeline approval process. The group is questioning the State Department's choice of Environmental Resources Management as the contractor to evaluate the environmental impact of the pipeline, saying that there might be conflicts of interest involved.

During the call, Nayak said that the primary goal of environmentally-minded OfA suporters should be to ridicule the "climate-deniers" rather than push for more immediate or concrete change.

"The climate deniers have become the most vocal people on this issue," while those who support legislation aimed at climate change have fallen silent since the mid-term elections of 2010 when the wave of Tea Party candidates infiltrated the House, he said.

"We will not get to the policy solutions, or the ultimate solutions that we need until we change the politics of this issue," he said, which is why OfA members need to "start aggressively pushing back at deniers."

"We need to make being a climate denier to be the same way as a Birther in this country, who espouse that the president wasn't born here in this country. We need to start treating all of these people like [Republican Missouri senatorial candidate] Todd Akin when it comes to issues of women's health, and espousing absurd ideas that have no basis in science or reality, and we've got to marginalize them."