February 6, 2014

Whitehouse to EPA: We Are Counting on You

Washington, DC – Today U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) visited the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to testify in its public hearing on proposed carbon pollution standards for new power plants.  The full text of Whitehouse’s testimony, as delivered, is below.


This year is our thirty-seventh straight year with a global temperature above the twentieth century average.  It’s the fourth hottest year on record in the continental United States.  As we sit here in this hearing, California and parts of Nevada are experiencing extreme drought.  A report today said California hadn’t seen dry weather like that since 1580.  Parts of Oregon are under severe drought.  This past fall Colorado had what scientists call a 1 in 1,000 year flood.  And we in New England are still digging out from the effects of Hurricane Sandy, which topped the 500-year storm flood lines in New York City.

Carbon dioxide levels are way outside anything humankind has lived in, going back over 8,000 centuries.   Oceans are likely acidifying faster than they have since the time of the dinosaurs.

What this does is not a matter of dispute.   Since the Civil War we’ve known carbon dioxide warms the atmosphere.  Period.   The ocean absorbing carbon from the atmosphere that turns it acidic is known, not debatable.  It’s a law of science.  It can be replicated in a laboratory.  A warming ocean raising sea levels is called the Law of Thermal Expansion. 

The largest source of carbon pollution in the United States is power plants.  And yes, it is pollution, when there’s too darned much of it.  (Arsenic is found in nature too, but I wouldn’t recommend taking too much of it.) 

Power plants are an important place for EPA to start.  The fifty dirtiest American power plants emit more carbon dioxide than all of Canada or all of Korea. 

Carbon pollution doesn’t come free.  Not on my Rhode Island shoreline.  Not for my Rhode Island fishermen.  Not for flooded Rhode Island factories along our rivers. 

Nor for lumbermen in Oregon whose forests have died, ski operators in Vermont whose seasons have shortened, oyster farmers in Washington whose spat were killed, farmers in California looking out at drought-parched fields, cherry growers in Michigan who lost their crop, or millions of other Americans who are paying the price. 

What is the price?

Through these carbon pollution effects, and many others, the 50 dirtiest power plants are offloading roughly $24 billion in harm onto the public each year.  It’s not fair to the rest of us. 

What am I supposed to say to a mom sitting in a Rhode Island emergency room with her kid on a nebulizer trying to recover from an asthma attack, caused by ozone from an out-of-state power plant?   Sorry?  Tough luck you?  I don’t think so.

And here’s the strong medicine we have to face.  Congress has been incapacitated by polluting special interests.  We are in the midst of an historic scandal.  Citizens United set loose the polluter money, and it has poisoned our democracy.  History will be a harsh judge of this moment.   But the fact is that polluter money has Congress tied up in knots.

This is real, and people who don’t want to agree are going to have to get over it.   We’d do best to get it done now, while there’s still time to prevent the worst damage to nature, while there’s still time to prevent the worst embarrassment to our democracy, while there’s still time to prevent the worst injury to America’s leadership in the world.

If we don’t get this right, we can’t expect the laws of nature will make an exception for us.  We can’t expect that our enemies and rivals around the world are going to give us a pass for having blown it so badly at this time of consequence.   We can’t expect that we’ll get a do-over. 

So I applaud EPA for its work to strike at the heart of carbon pollution, to protect our natural world from degradation, and our democracy from disgrace.  We are counting on you.


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