A Petaluma man and his son will walk the halls of Congress later this month and meet with lawmakers to drum up support for a greenhouse-gas tax and alternative energy choices.
Bruce Hagen, who works for Enphase Energy solar energy company in Petaluma, and his son Riley, 23, are part of Citizens Climate Lobby, a national grassroots lobbying group that is descending on Congress this month to make a case for more clean energy.
Hagen started on a smaller stage, appearing before the Petaluma City Council last week asking its seven members to sign a letter of support that he could deliver to the area's federal representatives. The council will consider the request Monday.
There is no formal legislation pending, but Hagen said he hopes his and his son's efforts will show legislators they have support back home for seeking alternatives to fossil fuel-based power sources.
"They need to feel comfortable enough to stand up to the oil and coal lobby," he said. "They're going to feel more comfortable that they won't lose their seats if they support this."
Hagen, a longtime volunteer on several Petaluma city commissions and a legislative assistant during the Carter administration, said he also wants to use the occasion to educate his son about how to influence public opinion through activism.
"He and his ilk are going to inherit whatever we leave behind," he said. "I see it as a huge opportunity to give hope to people his age to be able to solve our problems."
Hagen describes the proposed legislation as a revenue-neutral tax on carbon fuels. Though the proposal could bring more business to his company, Enphase, Hagen says society as a whole would also benefit.
"Carbon fuels are way underpriced and they're not bearing their full cost to society, to future society," he said.
A tax would be imposed on all fossil fuels, "anything that is causing climate change," Hagen said, at the point the product enters the economy. Then, a monthly per-person "dividend" would be sent to all American households equal to the total carbon fees collected per month.
From that check, consumers "can decide if they want to continue paying for those (energy sources) or alternatives," he said. "Alternatives can be buying rooftop solar, energy retrofitting your house, buying locally produced organic fruits and vegetables."
Petaluma council members were interested in the idea, but had questions.
"A revenue-neutral carbon tax is very intriguing and has merit," said Mike Healy. "What concerns me is, combined with that proposal is what appears to be a massive wealth-redistribution scheme."
The nonprofit Citizens Climate Lobby was founded in 2007 to train those concerned about climate change in how to organize and learn skills to be effective at influencing governments and policy makers.
Hagen said he hopes he and his son come back further energized to continue working to reduce the country's use of fossil fuels.
"With a lot of problems, people feel it's too big or they don't think anything can be done," he said. "This is about plugging people in and helping them feel good and effective and hopeful about solving a problem. When you see people actually making a difference in public opinion, it's encouraging."