Notes from my recent trip to Washington, D.C. with my 15-year-old niece
“This is where all the lobbyists work,” I told my niece as we drove past K Street in Washington, D.C. “What’s a lobbyist?” she said. I smiled, somewhat surprised she didn’t already know, considering how smart she is for a sophomore in high school.
This trip, without family, was a first for Alison and me, meant to be a way to have quality time with Uncle Kevin. She chose Washington, D.C. as our destination because she had never been. It’s one of my favorite cities, with so much to see and do in the nation’s capital.
Although I promised her Uncle Kevin wouldn’t be doing any work on this trip, I immediately broke that promise by agreeing to do a TV news interview at NBC’s capitol bureau.
The upside was Alison got to have a behind-the-scenes tour of a network TV newsroom and control room. I did my interview about regulation of green marketing claims, and then we were off to catch a bus tour of several monuments and memorials.
The relatively new FDR Memorial is really cool. Several of the former president’s famous quotations are carved into stone. Alison and I agreed there was one in particular that fit well with my passion for the environment.
The line was apropos for the moment, because I knew the following day the U.S. House of Representatives would be voting on the Waxman-Markey bill, called the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009.’’ It’s a mammoth bill, best known for its “cap and trade” provision to regulate greenhouse gases that contribute to the global climate crisis.
My business partner Valerie Davis and I have been closely following the international policy debate on global warming for many years. In December 2007, we traveled to Bali, Indonesia to participate as delegates in the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change. As Americans, we were embarrassed by our government’s continued refusal to cooperate with the more than 180 countries assembled to work on the problem. After all, our country was responsible for the greatest levels of greenhouse gas pollution.
In December 2008, we attended the same conference in Poznań, Poland. Thanks to the recent election of Barack Obama, we witnessed a remarkable turnaround: the U.S. foreign diplomat announced our country would reverse course, and commit to at least a 50 percent reduction in pollution by 2050. At the time, I was proud to see the change. I also believed it would be impossible for our new President and Congress to pass related legislation in time for the critical 2009 meeting in Copenhagen. Our economy was in a free fall and it appeared nothing else could possibly be on the minds of politicians in Washington.
I was wrong. On the second day of Kevin & Alison’s excellent adventure to D.C., I was able to secure gallery passes to the U.S. House, thanks to Rep. Lloyd Doggett of Austin. After waiting in a 45-minute line, we finally sat down in the half-empty gallery, watching 435 congressmen mill around the House floor. After watching one vote, the next speaker was Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif. I got choked up as I watched him lay out before the House his climate and energy change bill, asking for a final vote on adoption. Despite years of fighting and debate, the US House was about to take steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, put a cap on carbon and other greenhouse gases, and lay the foundation for changing the way we develop and consume energy for decades to come.
After hearing the first Republican opponent of the bill give his opening remarks, my niece turned to me and said, “He sounds like a 4-year-old who doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and he whines a lot.”
We didn’t stay in the gallery for the full 3-hour debate. We had a date at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History. We saw Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz.”
And then there was the original Kermit the Frog Muppet in a glass case. Kermit has been the source of controversy recently, accused of selling out as a spokes-puppet for Ford Motor Company’s hybrid vehicle. In the ad, Kermit says, “Maybe it is easy being green.”
Back at our hotel, we tuned into C-SPAN to watch the end of debate. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the final speaker. She encouraged her fellow colleagues to vote for the bill because of four words, “jobs, jobs, jobs and jobs.” During the 15-minute vote, I explained to Alison that the bill would require at least 215 votes (a simple majority) to pass. “Why are all of the Republicans voting against this?” I tried to explain that usually the political parties vote as a block. As the clock ticked down with less than a minute to go, the Democrats hadn’t hit the 215 mark yet. In the end, 44 Democrats would vote “no” and 8 Republicans voted “yes.”
Bottom line: 219-212, the climate change and energy bill passed! Alison and I gave each other a high-five. Next stop for the bill is the U.S. Senate. I’m certain there are problems in the 1,200-page bill that must be fixed in the Senate version.
The bill aims to reduce greenhouse gases by 80 percent by the year 2050. We figured out Alison will be 56-years-old in 2050. She hopes to be living in world then where clean energy is the norm.
Bill co-sponsor Rep. Ed Markey of Massachusetts said the bill is “the most important energy and environmental legislation in the history of our country. It sets a new course for our country, one that steers us away from foreign oil and towards a path of clean American energy.”
On our last day in Washington, we visited the Newseum, where dozens of US newspapers display their front page. It was no surprise that Michael Jackson’s death dominated the headlines of page one.
However, even the Des Moines Register made the story their Top story of the day. More newspapers from both the east and west coast made the story top news, than ones in the southern U.S. Our own Austin American Statesman buried the story in section A, but the Houston Chronicle placed the story on page one.
Alison and I went to Washington to tour our nation’s capitol. We ended up being witness to freedom and democracy in action. What a country. Happy Independence Day!