June 19, 2014

Climate Change in New Hampshire

As delivered on the Senate floor

Thank you Mr. President, I’m over here to make an objection if necessary to an effort to submarine the President’s climate change initiative, which two-thirds of all Americans support, which a huge number of major name-brand American corporations support, which is supported by those who we trust to lead our national defense and our national security interests.  But something about this building, something about this place makes it a place where the polluting interests have wildly disproportionate sway, and so we keep seeing these attacks on environmental regulation.  So, it’s actually kind of fortunate timing that I’m here because it gives me a chance for the seventy-first time to try to wake this body up to the harm that carbon pollution is causing to our oceans, to our economy, to our wildlife, and to our health.

I traveled recently to New Hampshire—I’ve been traveling around the country going to states that are facing the carbon predicament and seeing how they’re doing it—and I’ll tell you, the Granite Staters are facing up to the daunting challenges of climate change.

Rhode Islanders understand that New Hampshire’s challenges are like our own, we see similar threats in our state.  At the Newport, Rhode Island tide gauge, right at our naval station, sea level is up almost ten inches since the 1930s.  In the winter, we are three to four degrees warmer in Narragansett Bay.  The recent National Climate Assessment reports that Rhode Island will see even more rising sea-level, warmer temperatures, and extreme weather.   

New Hampshire showed that there was plenty of Yankee good sense up there as well.  The people of New Hampshire get it, and they are taking steps to tackle climate change. 

Let me first say: no one pretended it wasn’t real.  The first line of defense over here is that climate change isn’t real—no one I spoke to in New Hampshire was pretending that it wasn’t real.

The University of New Hampshire has an expert named Cameron Wake, who told me this: New Hampshire is “getting wetter and getting warmer” and they pointed out it’s happening fast.  The National Climate Assessment shows that due to climate change the Northeast already has seen 70 percent more extreme precipitation in recent years – dramatic downpours, that increase the risk of flooding. 

This University of New Hampshire data also shows an even more severe problem for New Hampshire.  Dr. Wake told me about data he and his University of New Hampshire colleagues have collected data from southern New Hampshire on what they call “extreme precipitation events” – what you might call a “rain burst” –where over four inches of rain falls in just 48 hours.  The data show these rain bursts have increased four to ten times since 1960, and they’ll only grow more frequent through the rest of the century, Wake and his University of New Hampshire colleagues report. 

That brings us to the “warmer” part of the “wetter and warmer” equation. 

The University of New Hampshire’s recent studies show that the state’s temperature has increased by twice the global average.  Happening in large part due to what Dr. Wake calls “snow dynamics”: warmer temperatures during New Hampshire’s winter less snow, less snow exposes more dark ground underneath, the dark ground absorbs more heat, and it warms faster than if it were covered in reflective snow—what scientists would call high-albedo snow.  So the ground then warms the air and on goes the cycle.

At Plymouth State University, the Appalachian Mountain Club has data that shows temperature increases in Pinkham Notch in New Hampshire’s White Mountains.  The average increase in temperature has climbed over 75 years; then if you look at the average over 50 years, you see that the line has steepened up and it’s accelerating; and if you look at the line for the last 25 years, it’s steepened up again and the increase is accelerating further .  So, New Hampshire’s temperatures aren’t just rising –they are rising faster.

What do these temperatures mean for Granite Staters?  Well, big changes to their winter industries, like skiing.  Six years ago, Ben Wilcox, who’s the general manager of the ski resort Mount Cranmore in North Conway, New Hampshire, was using 40 to 50 snow guns to cover his ski mountain.  Now he is using 150.  In the last five years, Wilcox reports, ski mountains in his region have invested in over 1,700 new, top-of-the-line snow guns capable of making three to four times the amount of snow of previous models.  So they can offset the snowpack loss from the shorter winters.  That makes them lucky.  But when people down the mountain don’t see snow, they don’t think “skiing!”  So they don’t go.  Stefan Hausmann is the owner of Zimmermanns Ski and Snowboard shop in Nashua, New Hampshire.  He told me that his business sees this in fewer new skiers and snowboarders buying their equipment at his store.  He is still selling the higher end skis to established skiers at a pretty good clip, but he is selling less equipment for beginners. “Those lower end customers just aren’t coming in the door,” says Hausmann. 

Of course, New Hampshire’s winter tourism industry goes far beyond skiing.  The New Hampshire Department of Travel & Economic Development says 34 million visitors travel to the Granite State and spend roughly $4.6 billion.  This makes tourism the state’s second largest industry and climate change hits a lot of it.   

For instance, snowmobilers and Nordic skiers come to New Hampshire’s backcountry for more than 7,200 miles of trails.  If you’re a ski mountain, you can crank snow out onto your busy ski slopes—not so easy when you’re talking about snowmobiling trails or Nordic skiing trails.  So, the ski business of trail skiing and the snowmobile business are taking a hit. 

The Hubbard Brook Research Foundation based in North Woodstock, New Hampshire, has found that snow cover has decreased by 22 days since I was born in 1955.  And the frozen lakes included in those trail systems that snowmobilers and Nordic skiers use are covered in ice less of the year– 33 fewer days on Mirror Lake just since 1967, for example.  As one Granite Stater told me, this hits not just the trails but the hotels, restaurants, snowmobile shops, and outdoor outfitters who depend on that market.

And, of course, it’s not just sports.  Jamey French of Portsmouth, the CEO and President of Northland Forest Products, told me how climate change is affecting New Hampshire’s—two of their most valuable hardwoods: the sugar maple and the yellow birch.  Sugar maples, of course, support New Hampshire’s maple sugar industry, but they also draw “leaf peepers” who travel to view the spectacular foliage that blankets the New Hampshire landscape in the autumn. 

As New Hampshire and neighboring states get warmer, the trees’ geographic range moves north.  Scientists predict that future warming will exacerbate this trend, meaning more production of maple syrup in Canada and less in the United States.  Bad news for New Hampshire’s maple sugar houses.        

And for the yellow birch, Mr. French points out that “in the 1940’s and 50’s, most of the furniture in New England was made out of yellow birch,” and yellow birch remains a valuable hardwood, drawing good prices for New Hampshire’s timber business.  French fears the consequences for his industry if yellow birch and sugar maples are pushed northwards and out by warmer weather trees.  “Will there be a wood product industry?” he asks. “Will there be a maple sugar industry in a . . . climate-changed New England?  There’s going to be a lot . . . less of one,” he concludes.

New Hampshire biologist Eric Orrf is witnessing one of the most dramatic changes.  He studies the moose – an animal that is bred to survive harsh northern winters.  But what Orrf sees is a catastrophic decline in moose population mostly due to the success of moose ticks—now this is going to get a little bit gross, so, forgive me.  Moose ticks breed more easily and they survive longer in milder winters.  Orrf explains, these are his words:

What happens when we have an early spring – when . . . winter ticks . . . fall off on bare ground – is they thrive.  They lay their eggs.  They’re successful at reproducing.  Then in the fall in November when the baby moose ticks are hanging together . . . if there’s no snow, then by the thousands, tens of thousands, [they] get on the calves.  Now for these calves, . . . they’d literally have to resupply their blood supply two times over to survive the winter.  They suck them dry.

Now, I think one tick is pretty revolting.  The idea of tens of thousands of ticks on a moose calf, sucking the blood out of the calf that it can’t keep up is a truly grizzly thought.   They literally “suck them dry”, according to Brian Orrf.  Michael Bartlett of the New Hampshire Audubon Society told me how the climate change is affecting the state’s birds.  New Hampshire’s state bird is the purple finch, it’s the official bird of New Hampshire, it’s a cold-weather bird with a range up to Canada.  He said this: “The Purple Finch is at the southern end of its range, and, in all likelihood, our state bird isn’t going to be found in the state of New Hampshire anymore.”

So, while we dawdle and delay in Congress, thanks to the influence of big polluters, there’s work to be done out there.  And thankfully states across the country, knowing the risks of do nothing, knowing the costs of doing nothing, are starting to act. 

I’ve been to the Southeast Coast, I’ve been to the Midwest, I’ve seen wind parks in Iowa with 500 wind turbines generating more than a quarter of the state’s electricity.  I went south and I saw Republican mayors and county officials in the Southeast putting climate and energy policy at the center of their governments’ plans. 

I saw it again in New Hampshire: Granite Staters who understand the risks all too well.  The University of New Hampshire recently released two—not one, but two comprehensive reports about climate change.  One for northern New Hampshire, one for southern New Hampshire.  I have them with me.  New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan, has played a pivotal role making sure that this work gets done and developing and operating New England’s Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – which we call “Reggie” – which is already at work reducing our region’s carbon pollution and providing a model for how other states can succeed under the power plant regulations.

Mr. President, we are already seeing our states – our “laboratories of democracy” – taking sensible steps down the path to reducing carbon emissions.  The EPA rule for carbon pollution from power plants will encourage that state role.  And just this morning, the Wall Street Journal and NBC News released polling data saying two-thirds of Americans support President Obama’s new climate rule and more than half say the U.S. should go for it and deal with global warming even if it means higher electricity bills for them. 

People in America get it, it’s only this building that is isolated by polluter influence.  It’s time for Congress to wake up and we will if the American people will give us a good shake.

It is time to wake up.  I yield the floor.