Claudine Schneider was a member of the House of Representatives (R-RI) when EESI began its work in 1984. She says EESI’s briefs were “what I wanted to read myself, as opposed to passing on to staff. And the forums were terrific.” Years later, she joined EESI’s Board of Directors because she knows how important the work is. As she explains, “Members of Congress determine the policies that affect everyone in the country – and on the planet. And energy use is the foundation of all economic development. Without energy, there is no commerce, no jobs. That’s why we need to use it wisely. It is essential that members of Congress make wise policy decisions based on science, technology, and understanding of social and economic impacts – decisions that are in the best interest of us all.”
Schneider’s interest in sustainable energy goes back to before her time in Congress. While in her 20s, she became involved in community action around a proposed nuclear plant. The experience made her understand why our country needs to move toward more renewable energy and energy efficiency.
When Schneider was first elected to Congress in 1980, becoming the first woman ever elected to a major political office in Rhode Island, she continued to focus on environmental issues. She authored, and Congress successfully passed into law, the first Appliance Efficiency Standards Act – which would eventually lead to the Energy Star rating system – as well as the Indoor Air Pollution Ban Act. She was also the first member of Congress to propose comprehensive legislation to establish a revenue-neutral federal government energy planning process that would reduce greenhouse gases while also reducing costs for taxpayers. Though the Global Warming Prevention Act did not pass, it helped make national policymakers aware of steps that can be taken to mitigate climate change.
When Schneider introduced the first and only revenue-neutral Global Warming Prevention Act, it had 144 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle. Schneider explains, “President Nixon created the EPA, Ronald Reagan happily signed into law my International Treaty on Biodiversity, Newt Gingrich co-sponsored my Global Warming Prevention Act! As a member of Congress, I knew, as well as my Republican colleagues, that regulations to assure clean air are a public interest imperative. We, Republicans and Democrats, worked together on behalf of the American people. We based our decisions on facts, not ideology, rhetoric or clever sound-bites. Fighting climate change and promoting sustainable energy should not be partisan issues.”
Since leaving Congress in 1990, Claudine has taught at Harvard, co-founded Energia Global, an energy efficiency and renewable energy company with a focus on Central and South America, and worked as an independent consultant on clean energy, technology, and climate issues. She has spoken at high-level forums throughout the world, delivering in particular the keynote address on climate change at the 1995 Pan Asian Conference in the Philippines. In 1989, she even briefed Margaret Thatcher on climate change – Thatcher was the first world leader to call for action on global warming.
In moving forward on energy and climate issues, Schneider opines, “There could not be a more critical role for a non-profit than to advise and educate Congress on energy and environmental issues. It’s what EESI does well – and it’s essential that they continue to do so.”