September 8, 2022

Whitehouse Outlines Next Steps to Lower Emissions After Passage of Landmark Climate Bill

Whitehouse delivers first Time to Wake Up speech after Inflation Reduction Act was signed into law

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse this evening took to the Senate floor to outline next steps for tackling climate change in his first climate speech after Democrats passed the historic Inflation Reduction Act – the most expansive climate bill ever signed into law.  The speech was Whitehouse’s 285th in the Time to Wake Up series.

In the speech, Whitehouse called for passage of additional legislation, including a carbon border adjustment.  In June, Whitehouse introduced the Clean Competition Act, legislation to create a border adjustment mechanism that would make American companies more competitive in the global marketplace and tackle major sources of emissions.  Whitehouse also called on the Biden administration to marshal the full strength of the executive branch and the bully pulpit to tackle climate change.

“A winning strategy ultimately includes regulation, litigation, acquisition, communication and legislation,” said Whitehouse.  “It includes leadership, like Eisenhower over the Normandy landing.  And it includes getting it done with gusto.  Have a damned fight.  It’s worth it.  The time for half-hearted, half-baked, halfway measures is done.  It’s all in or lose, and if we lose this race, the laws of chemistry and physics are unforgiving.”

Video of Whitehouse’s speech is here and his as-prepared remarks are below.


Well, Democrats at last passed a climate-focused reconciliation bill this year.  This is a huge step, and essential given the cascade of harms climate change is already inflicting.

Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, collapsing glaciers, rising seas, record carbon dioxide and methane concentrations in the atmosphere – a bombardment of hard evidence that the earth is fast becoming less hospitable for human life.  The costs of our negligence are high and rising.

My friends across the aisle like to fixate on the price of gasoline, which undeniably affects family budgets.  But climate change imposes costs on American families much worse than gasoline prices.  Climate change causes effects that raise insurance premiums, snarl supply chains, reduce crop yields, sicken people, and damage homes, cars, and businesses.  The International Monetary Fund estimates this “climate tax” on American families at over $5,000 per family per year.

Resources for the Future just put it at $185 per emitted ton of carbon dioxide.  Deloitte, the corporate consulting firm, predicts that climate harms will cost $178 trillion over the next 50 years, versus decarbonizing our economy which would add $43 trillion in economic growth.

That’s a $220 trillion swing, depending on what we choose.  The choice is stark.  The reconciliation bill, good as it is, won’t decarbonize our economy in time, without a lot more action.  The bill likely takes expected emissions reduction from around 25% up to around 40%, but that still leaves much to do.

Soon, we will need another bill.  The contours of such a bill are pretty clear.  There is bipartisan interest in a carbon border adjustment, which would make American manufacturing more competitive, and reduce carbon pollution worldwide.  There is bipartisan interest in common-sense permitting reform, to safely and quickly build out the clean energy infrastructure of the future.  And the fossil fuel industry at least pretends to be interested in a price on carbon emissions.  I will do everything in my power to do all this, but let’s be clear — it would be much easier if corporate America were not a wall of opposition to serious climate bills.  Banking, insurance, retail, tech, you name it — in this building, useless on climate, or worse. 

That leaves the executive branch.  There is lots that they can do.  And in this recent article, the White House said they’d get started.

What can be done by executive action?  Look at the largest sources of carbon pollution.

These 11 sources of carbon pollution account for almost 70 percent of all U.S. emissions.

Cars and light trucks, the largest category, generate almost a fifth of total U.S. carbon pollution.  EPA and DOT restored Obama-era greenhouse-gas emission standards; now go further, as California has.  Start with model year 2027, and begin a ramp-up to 100 percent zero-emission vehicles by 2035.  There’s authority for this under the Clean Air Act and the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act.  By the way, doubling your car’s fuel economy is like cutting the price of gasoline in half.  And getting off fossil fuel gets us off the Big Oil treadmill of cartel price-gouging set by foreign despots in Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Venezuela.

Next, coal-fired power plants.  Coal-fired power plants belch carbon pollution, but other pollutants too.  Among the worst: fine particulate matter, also known as soot or PM 2.5; it’s the leading cause of the estimated 100,000 and 200,000 air pollution-related premature deaths each year. 

Add coal ash, the toxic sludge left after you burn coal, loaded with arsenic, mercury, lead, and uranium; often stored in lagoons which sometimes burst, as you see in this picture, poisoning rivers and groundwater.  This should be a “never event,” but it’s not, and poor communities often take the hit.  EPA regulations can eliminate these threats.  Nothing in the recent West Virginia v. EPA decision prevents EPA from requiring that coal-fired power plants install carbon capture technology, which can eliminate up to 95 percent of their carbon pollution.  And EPA’s authority under the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts to regulate fine particulate matter and coal ash is well established. 

Gas-fired power plants are big carbon polluters, and they’re still being built.  EPA regulations for new and existing gas-fired plants can limit their carbon pollution.  Carbon capture would be one option; co-firing with zero-carbon hydrogen could be another.

Then heavy-duty vehicles – trucks and buses.  EPA has a proposed rule; it does nothing to reduce carbon pollution.  EPA and DOT have ample authority here and should use it.  California has its Advanced Clean Trucks Rule, requiring increased zero emission vehicles — if you can’t do any better, follow California’s lead.

Next comes methane spewing from oil and gas facilities as leaks, vents or flares.  EPA has a proposed rule but it has flaws.  First, it doesn’t cover low-producing wells, which can still be big leakers.  Second, it does little for venting and flaring, major pollution sources.  Satellites can now precisely locate methane leaks, so aggressively pursue and punish big polluters.  Set up a task force. 

That would cover more than half of gross carbon emissions in the U.S.  Let’s do it.  No more complaining about not enough staff.  EPA has more employees than all of Congress.  Detail folks in from the regional offices; borrow from state counterparts; do what it takes to get after this like you mean it. 

Here’s a list I tweeted out of other things the Biden administration could start doing.

Within the White House, OMB — eighteen months in — needs to finalize its social cost of carbon, the costs and harms from each ton of carbon pollution.  That’s the number RFF just pegged at $185 per ton.  OMB needs to finalize its social cost of carbon, and require its use throughout government decision-making. All the regulatory agencies should use it.  Add procurement:  the federal government contracts for over $600 billion in goods and services every year – buildings, vehicles, planes, cement, steel, appliances.  You name it, the government buys it.  Plug the social cost of carbon into procurement, as many private companies do, and engage the power of government contracting.  That then drives economies of scale making low-carbon alternatives cheaper for everyone.

The social cost of carbon should drive Department of Interior royalty rates for oil, gas, and coal produced on federal lands and waters — rates now so low that we lose money on royalties compared to the costs those fossil fuels impose on all of us.  Dumb, and unfair, to allow this flagrant imbalance.

The Department of Justice has a role to play as well.  Under the Clinton administration, DOJ sued Big Tobacco for decades of misrepresentations about the harms of its product.  DOJ won, and got a court order requiring Big Tobacco to quit lying.  Like Big Tobacco, Big Oil has spent decades misrepresenting the dangers associated with its product.  DOJ is way overdue to take a serious look at fossil fuel lies.  If they did, I bet they’d find the case against Big Oil every bit as solid as the case they won against Big Tobacco.

While we’re at it, use the bully pulpit to call out the dark money, the lies, the fake science, the phony front groups, the spin doctors, the co-opted lobby groups, and the dirty political spending that the fossil fuel industry has used to corrupt Congress and obstruct progress.  Calling out crooks is good for the soul, and the public deserves to know that there’s a villain here, and what the villain is up to. 

There’s a lot that the administration can and should be doing.  It’s good to declare a climate emergency; it’s better to act like it’s a climate emergency.  That means the sort of regulatory surge I’ve just outlined — no waffling and no excuses.  A winning strategy ultimately includes regulation, litigation, acquisition, communication and legislation.  It includes leadership, like Eisenhower over the Normandy landing.  And it includes getting it done with gusto.  Have a damned fight.  It’s worth it.  The time for half-hearted, half-baked, halfway measures is done.  It’s all in or lose, and if we lose this race, the laws of chemistry and physics are unforgiving.  

Meaghan McCabe, (401) 453-5294

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Meaghan McCabe, (202) 224-2921