Notes From the White House Meeting – January 2015 in Washington DC

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
Climate March meeting with White House staff Rohan Patel, Dan Utech and Angela Barranco
Notes compiled with assistance from Bruce Nayowith, Ben Bushwick, Kat Haber, Miriam Kashia and Ed Fallon

WH: Angela Barranco is Associate Director for public engagement. Dan Utech is Special Assistant to the President for Energy and Climate Change. Formerly, and he was a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Energy. Rohan Patel is a Special Assistant to the President and Deputy Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, where he serves as the liaison to local elected officials. Previously, Rohan served as Associate Director at the White House Council on Environmental Quality, overseeing climate change and conservation issues.

Ed described how people responded to the March, with marchers having tens of thousands of conversations over eight months. He expressed how much we appreciate the President’s position on Keystone XL. Along the March, there were big physical and logistical problems, including unprecedented weather events: ten inches of rain in Los Angeles, two dust storms in New Mexico, six straight nights of thunderstorms in eastern Colorado, and a hailstorm in Nebraska that was eight miles wide by 100 miles long.

Also, we met many people affected by climate change directly, and also by the effects of the fossil fuels infrastructure on their lands, homes and surroundings. Most of us are already spreading the message. We are happy to share stories with anyone who will listen.??Kathe read an overview of the March, the first page of a booklet of the March with pictures and some descriptions and postcards from people,which was given to the staff for the President.

Kathe recounted that on March 1, 2014, approximately 30 marchers and our supporters set out from the oil refineries that clutter the Port of Los Angeles in Wilmington, CA, to walk across the country. We were compelled on this eight-month long, 3,000-mile journey by the unswerving belief that climate change is the crisis of our time, and demands nothing less than wholehearted engagement and comprehensive action to mitigate and adapt to the environmental crises that are in evidence today, and will challenge us for years to come.

She spoke of how our group walked an average of 15 miles daily, slept in tents at roadside camps, stayed in local churches and city parks and enjoyed occasional home stays. People joined along the way for a few weeks, a day, or to share a meal and discussion. All across our glorious country, adults and children shared their stories, describing a collective awareness that something has gone terribly wrong. We learned about the effects of drought in the southwest, severe weather impacts on families in the Midwest, nutrient-dead farmlands in Iowa, the threat posed by the KXL pipeline in Nebraska, and what fracking has taken from so many people living in Ohio and Pennsylvania. There were many people, young and old, with much to say. We promised to carry their messages to the White House, giving out cards so they could share their thoughts and concerns in their own words. These are their cards and stories. They were written in earnest, and it is our hope that they will be read with that in mind.??Kathe concluded her presentation by saying that when the March arrived in Washington, DC on November 1st, the group had grown in numbers, but, more importantly, we had all become citizen activists, loyal to the stories and to the beautiful country we’d walked across and dedicated to assuring we leave behind a world as wondrous as the one we inherited.

Miriam shared her letter: “You are looking at roughly 1/3 of the participants of the GMCA. Of course, we will never know how many thousands more joined us marching through their cities and towns, attended our rallies, followed us online, or in the media. The most compelling impact of our epic journey is our witness to the devastation of climate change already spreading across our land, and the stories shared with us en route. These stories from the citizens of our country tell the tale better than charts and statistics, about the increasing catastrophes of climate change and the destruction to our communities and ecosystems from the extraction, refining, and transport of the fossil fuel industries. The strong community we created through consistent hard negotiations and mutual respect and heroic effort is a model for how we all, together, will be able to change course, alter history, and create resiliency for the rough road ahead. We are ordinary Americans who have become vehicles for change. If there is a way for you to use us, we are ready, able and passionately involved.”

WH: Dan Utech:
– “It’s inspiring for us to be with people like you who made a great sacrifice and are so committed.”
– “We wish you could see how much we are doing regarding climate impact.”
– “The President is working hard to do what he can.”
– “We’re following our June, 2013 Climate Action Plan and the EPA will be setting limits at power plants which will be finalized this summer.”
– “The most important challenge we face is that though the majority of the American people know climate change is real and we are causing it, the reality has not sunk in yet with enough people. It’s not at the top of people’s lists.”
– We (this administration) are seeing major investment changes by power companies into renewable sources.
– All states will be required to pout forth a plan for reducing GHG’s and many already have.
– We have put in place big changes in efficiency guidelines for appliances which are a “huge deal” in reducing energy usage.
– We are pushing for doubling fuel efficiency.
– Perhaps most importantly, we are working closely to support state and local officials and many of their carbon reduction plans are already exceeding our requirements.
– Due in part to the economic recovery stimulus, we are really investing in research. There will be a technological tipping point. As renewable energy becomes cheaper it becomes more economically beneficial than fossil fuel-based energy.  The dropping carbon curve will follow the dropping cost curve on renewables.
– Responding to our inquiry about TPP fast track: “NAFTA was a big disaster re sending jobs overseas. The President is pushing for stronger labor protection and climate protections.”

WH: Rohan Patel:
– (paraphrasing): The President is acting with moral clarity. He said at the UN Climate  Summit: There are huge problems to be faced: ISIS/Ebola/Russia/Syria, but there is no problem other than climate that will define this century.
– For the President, This is a morally important, inter-generational, global problem.

Steve Martin shared that “at the climate rally in Phoenix, an Indian Chief gave two marchers a tiny blue stone to carry to journey’s end. It was a talisman, to hold their sacred tribal prayer – a prayer that would be completed when our journey was finished. I carried it in this pouch and walked as my heart would direct across the country, to the People’s Climate March in New York City. The evening of the Peoples Climate March, I attended an interfaith service at Saint John the Divine Cathedral. It was a commissary service. Guests, from Al Gore to a tired marcher like me, were each handed stones and directed to place them on an altar as an act of commitment to this earth. It seemed the time and place to set the tribal stone down, and I left it there on the table with all those others. Here is the small elk skin bag that hung around my neck. It carried the above. There are tiny fragments from it still within. Like this small bag, we all carry fragments of their prayer within us – a prayer to save this earth.”

Ben wrote a letter in AZ which he brought with him and wanted to leave for the President. Ben is about to graduate from college, and he saw the March as a pilgrimage.

John was teaching science and math for 17 years, to at risk teens. With the present global situation, all teens are at risk. As a biologist, he studies extinction. This situation has resulted from fossil fuels. He went on the March with a good abstract understanding of things, with convictions about the science, but saw it first hand, personally. He described families living near Pet Coke piles, and their illnesses, including a 12-year old girl who can’t breathe from allergic asthma from the Pet Coke. He also described a family in Butler, PA, where they have a VOC meter in their basement, that tops off at 1223ppm (the level is higher, but that is as far as the meter goes). The hazardous level is 125ppm. Their chickens died. They are too poor to move out. Their house is within five miles of 22 frack wells.

WH: Mr Utech said it is inspiring to meet people like us, who made a choice to sacrifice to draw attention to this issue. He said the President is working with other countries to effect a global solution. One important challenge is that they know that the American people are with the President, but it has not sunk in enough to be high enough priority in their decision-making for enough people.

WH: Mr Patel: The March is bringing a moral clarity, a story, to something that is often just esoteric. It is more impactful this way. At the UN Climate Summit, the President mentioned issues: ISIS, Ebola, Ukraine, Syria/Middle East. And, he said that none will define the contours of this century as much as climate change. During his second State of the Union address, the President talked about climate change with ‘religious undertones’.  It is deeply held, morally important, and an intergenerational issue.??EPA: Their agencies are tasked to work on climate impact. Angela runs an office that interacts with the public, and collects stories. She can also use our stories to help move things forward.??EPA: They asked us “How can we help you get your message out more?”

We asked if there was a way to find Mary DeCamp’s letters to President Obama. If we could get a copy of them. They will look.

Questions from us: What good news can we bring back to our communities?

WH: Mr. Utech: Talk about the June 2013, Climate Action Plan, which was a guiding document. Some highlights: Reduce emissions. EPA to set carbon limits. This will be finalized this summer, done under the Clean Air Act. Also, there was a stimulus bill in 2009 that included support for renewable energy, though it is getting resistance from Congress. There are laws on the books which give tools to use, including the Clean Air Act about power plant emissions. The act shifts to the states, as each state sets its own plan to meet these goals. We can help at the state level to influence the content of these plans towards more healthy ways of meeting them. We can engage at local and state level.??

WH: Mr Patel: There is no bigger organizing opportunity available. Power plants and utilities are already changing how they invest, in preparation for this. Every state will have to put together its own implementation plan. Government will incentivize them to go further. The states need cities and counties to get this implemented. We’ve seen a 13-fold increase in solar energy, and a large increase in wind power since President Obama first took office. Appliances are now more efficient because efficiency guidelines are being pushed in industry. For example, the automobile regulations have doubled fuel efficiency. This has been a huge change.

WH: Ms. Barranco: There are two opportunities in the community. Activate people to be as loud as possible. Activate local media. Work on the state level, and feel free to send the staffers what we are doing, any problems we are having.

We expressed a real concern about natural gas being used as a transition fuel, and about whether methane was also being monitored, as it is dangerous as well.

WH: Mr. Utech: Yes, goals is 17% decrease in carbon emissions by 2020, and 26-28% reduction by 2025. They are working on regulations for methane which is very potent, and trying to work on ozone-depleting gases, as well.

WH: Mr. Patel: Through the Recovery Act, a tipping point can be reached with technology availability and pricing. Now, investing is in early stage resources and storage. As technology improves, it will save money. When talking about the cost curve, and carbon curve – in setting limits, now corporations are investing a great deal in renewables.

Kelsey brought up concerns about the TPP, urging rejection. It would ship jobs overseas, increase fracked gas, tar sands oil all around the world. A full page about this was also given to them, but not read.

WH: Mr Patel:  He feels that he is a liberal. His dad lost his job to NAFTA and outsourcing. He feels that most of the companies that are going to move jobs overseas already did. There was a meeting with Oceana, a wildlife organization, concerned about impact on wildlife trafficking and ocean acidification. They think this agreement would help those. There is a great deal of balancing. China is in negotiation with New Zealand and SE Asia to create a free trade zone there. He wants to push for structured environmental controls, stronger labor protections. And, we cannot ignore the fact that globalization has taken place. It is important to find ways to affect things in the best ways possible. It would be good to have a follow up dialogue with him about the specifics of the TPP. Checking, what does this affect, and not affect? We were invited to set up a follow up meeting about TPP, and exactly what is and is not in it.

Doug described a hailstorm in Nebraska in July that stripped corn off the stalks, and twin tornadoes. He asked why, since the price of oil can lead to companies going out of business if too high, that we are exporting it, why allowing this glut of LNG out into the market?

WH: Mr. Utech: It is hard to say what prices are short term. They are trying to work on long-term process and trajectories, and get away from the cycle that people only care about energy when the fuel prices are high. They are working through the UN to bring other countries along. They will keep doing that.

We mentioned that our voices have been heard and have grown strong over 3000 miles of what we have seen and heard. We have pictures, stories, videos. We encouraged them to please use us well.

WH: Angela suggested that we put all of our emails to her in one place, maybe on one website (not Dropbox, as that is not secure for government downloads). Also, send her updates as we update that website. She also reaffirmed that acting on the local level is very important. They are developing partnerships with Catholic bishops, Evangelical leaders and African American ministers.

On TPP, we gave them this at the end of the meeting: “The TPP is a massive ‘free trade’ agreement currently under negotiation by some 600 corporations and 12 governments that, if passed, will legally solidify the corporate state and all of its anti-planet , anti-people, and anti-democratic evils. It is often referred to as ‘NAFTA on steroids’ because of its sheer size (encompassing 40% of global GDP and 1/3 of world trade), its binding rules on non-trade matters (such as food safety, financial regulation, human rights, and environmental protection) and its secret negotiations that hide the text from members of congress, state legislators, the press, civil society and the public.

“In the US, the TPP will lead to increased fossil fuel development and exports, especially of tar sands, fracked natural gas, and coal. Investors will gain new safety nets and rights that trump our federal environmental and labor protections. In order to live sustainably on this planet, we must rethink our political and economic systems that assume infinite growth and favor the 1%.

“The TPP is our most immediate battle ground as it could be forced through Congress this week! As special assistant to the President, please abandon the TPP and instead look to develop local, fair-trade economies that incentivize renewable energy infrastructure and decentivize obsolete fossil fuel infrastructure.”

Questions for Mr Utech: Why won’t President Obama disclose the text embodied within the TPP to the public? Why is he seeking Fast Track authority over the TPP? What is the President’s relationship with FERC?