October 17, 2019

Whitehouse Supports Resolution Condemning Trump Rollback of Clean Power Plan

Washington, DC – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse today voted in support of a Senate resolution expressing disapproval of the Trump administration’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which was aimed at reducing the greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change.  The Trump administration replaced the Clean Power Plan with the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule – a move to weaken carbon emission standards for power plants that was hailed by the fossil fuel industry.  The Senate rejected the resolution in a 41-53 vote this afternoon.

In remarks yesterday on the Senate floor, Whitehouse joined Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), and Tom Carper (D-DE) to speak in support of the resolution.

“This rule is designed to fool people into thinking that the Trump administration is obeying the Clean Air Act, but no one should be fooled,” Whitehouse said of the Trump’s administration’s replacement rule.  “From the get-go, the Trump administration made clear it didn’t care about cutting carbon pollution, fighting climate change, or protecting the environment or public health.  It cared about obeying the fossil fuel industry, not the law.”

Whitehouse’s full speech is below.

 Madam President, I am delighted to join my colleagues from Maryland and Delaware to support this resolution expressing disapproval of the Trump administration rescinding the Clean Power Plan and replacing it with its so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, which is a name fanciful enough to make George Orwell blush.

The first thing to understand about the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule is that it is a do-nothing rule, exactly as the polluters wish.  EPA admits its own rule would do virtually zero to reduce carbon pollution.  It requires zero emissions reductions at natural gas-fired power plants, and it would allow coal-fired power plants to make minor efficiency improvements and then run for longer hours.  That could actually lead to an increase in carbon pollution.

This rule is designed to fool people into thinking that the Trump administration is obeying the Clean Air Act, but no one should be fooled.  From the get-go, the Trump administration made clear it didn’t care about cutting carbon pollution, fighting climate change, or protecting the environment or public health.  It cared about obeying the fossil fuel industry, not the law.

Within weeks of taking office, Trump’s swampy Cabinet rolled out the red carpet for coal baron Bob Murray, who had an action plan for the administration.  Here is Murray with Energy Secretary Perry, and look who is accompanying Murray at the meeting, our EPA Administrator, Andrew Wheeler, then Murray’s lobbyist.  It looks like a friendly meeting, and why wouldn’t it be?  Look at that, such a nice big hug.  Isn’t that sweet?

Murray was the major financial backer of the Trump administration, and this was his payback time.  Individuals associated with Murray Energy were the largest source of donations to Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign, and Murray himself chipped in a cool 300 grand for Trump’s inaugural festivities.  Murray was also one of the largest donors to election spending groups associated with disgraced EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, under whose tenure this botched ACE rule began.

So what was the first item on Bob Murray’s action plan?  To get rid of the Clean Power Plan.  Bob Murray wasn’t the only one who wanted to scrap the Clean Power Plan. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, two of the largest and most powerful trade associations in Washington, also asked the EPA to scrap the Clean Power Plan. That is no surprise.  The independent watchdog group InfluenceMap found the chamber and NAM the two worst obstructers of climate action. They will not reveal their donors, but I believe they took lots of money from the fossil fuel industry and became its mouthpiece.  They got paid, and this was the play.

The chamber and NAM were also aligned with shadowy fossil fuel industry front groups like the so-called Utility Air Regulatory Group and the American Council for Clean Coal Electricity—more Orwellian names.  These groups also asked the EPA to scrap the Clean Power Plan and replace it with this toothless rule.

Is that unsavory enough?  It gets worse.  Guess who represented UARG, that Utility Air Regulatory Group.  It was none other than fossil fuel industry stooge Bill Wehrum, who helped orchestrate a web of front groups, like UARG, which obscured and multiplied the influence of Wehrum’s polluter clients—clients responsible for massive carbon pollution.

Naturally, Trump put this guy in as head of EPA’s Air Office. Before Wehrum headed for the exits this summer, Murray’s man Wheeler praised Wehrum for ‘‘tremendous progress’’ in repealing climate regulations.  Pruitt to Wheeler to Wehrum—this is rank fossil fuel crookedness in plain view.  Several of us submitted comments laying out the financial and professional connections between the Trump officials who developed this bogus rule and the fossil fuel industry that asked for it. Those comments are posted online and in the Federal Register.  I urge you to have a look.  Also available online is a report I did with Senator CARPER detailing Wehrum’s industry ties and conflicts of interest. Medium.com/@senwhitehouse will link you to all of this.

The crony capture of EPA is not the only problem with the rule. The industry is so greedy and its hacks are so clumsy that they don’t bother to align the rule with the scientific and economic evidence.

In court, Agency actions will be found to be arbitrary and capricious— and therefore invalid—if they are not the product of reasoned decision-making.

In this case, it is clear that the EPA ignored the science, ignored the economics, and produced exactly what the fossil fuel industry told it to do: a do-nothing rule that took good care of the coal and natural gas industries.

What does the science tell us?  According to the world’s best scientific report, if we reduce carbon pollution by roughly half by around 2030 and reach net zero emissions sometime around the middle of the century, we stand a chance to hold the global average temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Our own best scientists warn that if we don’t limit carbon pollution, we will be hit with economic losses in the hundreds of billions of dollars per year by the end of the century.  Legions of economists, investment banks, asset managers, central banks, credit rating agencies, and other experts warn of serious economic risks from climate upheaval.  Here is a summary of just some of these warnings, which I have delivered to every colleague in the Senate. That, too, can be found on that Medium page.

Pruitt, Wehrum, and Wheeler ignored all of this for their do-nothing rule. The only voice that mattered was the polluter industry that they came from and will go back to in an oil-greased revolving door.  This ACE rule is the exact opposite of reasoned decision-making.  But that was never the point.  The fix was in.  Even a bogus rule that courts throw out buys this crooked and corrupting industry time—time to keep polluting, time to burn through reserves, and time to use its political muscle to fend off action here in the Senate.  If you are in the fiddling business and fiddle for money, fiddling while Rome burns is a fine economic proposition for you.

The Supreme Court has ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants under the Clean Air Act.  The EPA has found that greenhouse gases from power plants endanger human health and welfare. Those determinations mean the EPA must limit carbon pollution, consistent with the law.  This masquerade of a rule fails to do this, so it must be replaced with something effective, as a matter of law.

I ask colleagues to think carefully about their vote on this resolution.  Do you want to endorse this record of obvious industry capture?  Do you want to side with this corrupting industry over your own constituents’ health and safety?  Do you want to go on record ignoring all the warnings from the Bank of England, from Freddie Mac, from Nobel Prize-winning economists, and from hundreds of our own government’s most knowledgeable experts?

The fossil fuel industry—its voice full of money, as F. Scott Fitzgerald might say—has drowned out the voices of everyone else for too long here.  But you can’t shout down the laws of physics.  You can’t shout down the laws of biology, chemistry, and economics.  Those laws will have their way, and we have been well warned.  So, please, let’s turn the corner to a brighter day where decency rules, not industry political thuggery; a brighter day where facts and science matter more than dark money and paid-for denial; and a brighter day where we don’t give our grandchildren daily cause for shame. It is time to wake up, and this vote is a chance to do so.

I yield the floor.




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