Gary Battles and Kirsten Meneghello (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)
Gary Battles and Kirsten Meneghello (Ed Langlois/Catholic Sentinel)

One is a Republican, a retired Army colonel. The other is a political independent who has worked as a broadcast journalist and development director.

Both are staunchly Catholic and both represent a new look for the environmental movement.

Portlanders Gary Battles and Kirsten Meneghello have joined the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, a California-based group with chapters all over the nation, including Bend, Corvallis, Eugene, Astoria, Oregon City, Portland, Salem and Medford. Instead of chaining themselves to trees or blocking oil tankers, the volunteer lobbyists do something they say is more effective when it comes to saving the planet — forming relationships with federal lawmakers.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby promotes a market-based idea called “carbon fee and dividend.” The plan begins with a steadily rising fee on fossil fuels like coal, oil and gas. The notion is that everyone should pay the true costs of emitting carbon. For example, it would start out adding 14 cents per gallon at the pump.

But the money would come back. Funds collected would be distributed equally to U.S. homes. The organization’s studies show that in Oregon, about six in 10 households would receive more than they spend. Even those hit the most by the fees — the wealthy — would not lose more than .2 percent of income.

“It helps the people who are going to get hurt the most,” said Battles, a member of St. Juan Diego Parish in Northwest Portland and owner of a beverage company. “The goal is to make fossil fuels more expensive and renewables less expensive.” 

Meneghello, a member of St. John Fisher Parish in Southwest Portland, said the benefit of fee-and-dividend over cap-and-trade systems is predictability, among other things. According to organizers, the plan could create 2.1 million U.S. jobs in 20 years.  

“We think people on the left and right will see there is tremendous value in it,” said Meneghello. “It protects the poor, creates jobs, stimulates the economy and reduces our carbon emissions.”

Volunteers have signed on to Citizens’ Climate Lobby for many reasons, including caring for the next generation, saving productive forests and farmlands, preserving fisheries and safeguarding residents of lowland island. Battles and Meneghello aid faith to the list.

“I believe we were placed on earth to be stewards,” Battles explained, citing “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis’ encyclical on care for the earth.

Meneghello began searching for an environmental group to join after waking up repeatedly in the wee hours. She had the sense that God was asking her what she planned to do about creation’s demise.

Both chose Citizens’ Climate Lobby because of its bipartisanship and sensibility. The organization has helped form a climate solutions caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. Lawmakers can join only of they come in a pair with one Republican and one Democrat. Since June, the caucus has doubled in size to almost 60.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Rep. Earl Blumenauer are members and other Oregon representatives are being asked.

Volunteers like Battles and Meneghello pay their own way to Washington, D.C., to meet with members of Congress and ask them to join the caucus and consider the fee and dividend.  

“Our approach is non-partisan and we are not against anything,” says Battles. “We know what we are for. Members of Congress actually like to see us because we don’t go in and say, ‘You stupid son of a %$#%$!’” Volunteers also meet with legislative staff in the home districts. The tone is respectful and non-partisan.

“CCL brings hope and optimism,” Meneghello said.

In June, members of the group sat down with 503 of the 535 members of Congress. Few other environmental organizations have that kind of reach. New volunteers are always welcome.

“I would ask the people in the pews: ‘What do you love about the earth?” Battles said. “What do you love about Oregon? And if you love it that much, do you want to save it?’”