One of the beautiful things about our country's political system is that, in theory, our elected officials in Washington are supposed to respond to our concerns and fight for them on our behalf. Even President Obama calls Congress. So, let's say you're worried about global climate change, and you decide that the best thing to do is to call some representatives and senators – after all, they're supposed to work for you. But whose offices should you contact?
In all honesty, one singular call isn't going to make much of a difference, especially if the caller doesn't live in that member's state or district. Always call your own representative and senators first. However, that's pretty boring, so for the sake of argument, let's say you aren't just one person but a veritable army of callers from across the country. Who do you tele-target then?
Well, as tempting as it is to say "everybody," that's not really practical, so here's one strategy. The House and Senate both have committees dedicated to energy and environmental issues, and within each of those are subcommittees who get first crack at relevant legislation, before the full committee does, and generally way before the full chamber even gets a whiff of a completed bill. Your first targets, therefore, should include the influential members and any swing voters of these particular committees and subcommittees, which, after some sifting, come to a nice, mathematically perfect six. Without further ado, let's head to the Senate.
1. Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.):
Senator Wyden is the chairman of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, which is charged with most environmental work. If something is going to get through the Senate regarding climate change, Sen. Wyden, a consistent supporter of environmental legislation, is going to be playing a role in moving the bill.
2. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.):
The comedic senator's role in climate change legislation is no laughing matter. He's the chairman of the recursively-named Senate Energy Committee's Subcommittee on Energy. Interested in fossil fuel standards? Sen. Franken's going to have a major say, and chances are that he’ll vote in favor of them, too.
3. The swing vote: Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.):
Sen. Landrieu is a bit of a Democratic outlier, voting for only 50% of pro-environment bills. It shouldn't really be a surprise – Louisiana is heavily dependent on the fossil fuel industry (Deepwater Horizon, anybody?), but in the 60-votes-necessary Senate, any climate-change bill is going to need every senator it can get, including Sen. Landrieu, a member of the Energy Subcommittee.
Now, let's walk across the Capitol to the House:
In the House, the Committee on Energy and Commerce is responsible for environmental legislation. Within this committee, two subcommittees work on environmental bills: the Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. So whose votes do you chase?
The strategy's a bit different – the Republican-controlled house would kill a climate-change bill faster than Seal Team Six killed Osama bin Laden, but let's be optimists. If you catch word of a good climate-change bill making its way through the House, give these representatives' offices a ring.
4. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY):
Rep. Whitfield is the chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy and Power, which is more likely to be assigned a climate-change bill than the Subcommittee on Environment and Economy. That subcommittee is more concerned with the toxins aspect of environmental policy. Besides, you wouldn't want to deal with Environment and Economy's chairman, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Ill.), whose reason behind ignoring climate change is biblical: Noah was promised that a flood will never again destroy the earth. Besides, as long Rep. Shimkus' southeastern Illinois district is still around, what does he care if some of those liberal districts along the coasts sink a bit into the ocean, right?
5. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-Penn.):
Pittsburgh's representative is one of the swingingest Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee, and like Sen. Landrieu, it's not difficult to figure out why: Pennsylvanian coal and natural gas. Though he does make the pro-environment vote probably six or seven times out of ten, if the Democrats want a chance at passing a climate-change bill, they need every vote they can get, including his. And finally…
6. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.):
Though the image of Rep. Fred Upton, the chairman of the Committee on Energy and Commerce, is enough to inspire fear and loathing among many an environmentalist (sorry), his chairmanship makes him an important representative to call. Rep. Upton is a grim reaper of pro-environmental bills, so it's little wonder that the GOP put him in charge of then. On top of that, most recent bills seeking to restrict or roll back environmental protections have carried his sponsorship, including a 2011 bill he co-authored with Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) to remove the EPA's authority to regulate the emissions that cause climate change.
All told, asking Rep. Upton to support climate change legislation will probably get you same answer as asking him to set you up with his swimsuit-model niece, Kate. As long as Rep. Upton is the House's chief environmental-policy gatekeeper, there is no way climate-change legislation will ever be passed. Sorry, ye environmentalists. But that's no reason not to call him — it's our right and our privilege to tell Congress what we think.