January 7, 2020

Time to Wake Up: 2019 in Review

As-prepared for delivery.

Mr./Mdm. President, here we are in 2020 and I am still coming to the floor to try to wake this chamber up to the perils of climate change. Pathetic.

Why do I have to be doing another of these speeches? Why don’t we heed the warnings of our foremost scientists, of our military, of top financial institutions, of our own home-state universities?

What does it take to get our attention here?

Why is the fossil fuel industry’s unlimited dark money still flooding our politics? Why are the biggest lobbying forces in Washington, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, rated as America’s worst climate obstructors? Where are those trade group’s members — who claim to support climate action — when their own groups are leading the obstruction?

Who around here is so cynical as to keep taking fossil fuel money and blocking climate action — how is that a legitimate deal?

Who hasn’t noticed the world spinning toward climate catastrophe? The forests burning; the seas rising; the ocean water acidifying?

To the liars, and the deniers, and the connivers, and the dark money stooges, I’m here to say: 2020 is going to be a bad year for you. The sand beneath your castle of lies is eroding fast. 2019 — that was a tough year for you. 2020 will be worse. We are going to bring down your castle of lies.

The fossil fuel industry runs a campaign of obstruction that hides behind an armada of phony front groups. We will out you, and your fossil-fuel funding, too.

Big oil companies who pretend to want progress, while still using that climate denial and obstruction apparatus to attack the very progress they claim to want — that truth we will out. We will expose your two-faced corruption.

The fossil fuel industry spoons up the biggest subsidy in the history of the planet. The IMF estimates their global subsidy in the trillions every year; that’s globally. In the United States alone, the fossil fuel industry was subsidized to the tune of $650 billion in 2015, the most recent year the IMF calculated. We will out that massive subsidy, and your dark-money schemes to protect it.

The fossil fuel industry’s biggest schemers against climate action in Congress are big corporate trade associations — the worst two, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The watchdog InfluenceMap outed NAM and the Chamber in a virtual tie as the two most obstructive forces on climate change. Some prize.

The Chamber works its evil in legislation, through regulatory action, in courts, in elections, even fighting state level progress on carbon pollution. The Chamber funded the phony, debunked report that President Trump used to disparage the Paris Agreement. The Chamber stooged for the fossil fuel industry for years, and got away with it. 2019 saw an end to that.

My colleagues and I took to social media, to op-ed pages, and to the Senate floor to out the Chamber for its shameful record on climate change. We pushed Chamber members to demand change within the organization. We countered the Chamber, with amicus briefs laying out its dirty history, when its evil little head popped up in climate lawsuits. Senator Warren and I lodged a complaint with the Clerk of the House and the Secretary of the Senate over the Chamber’s refusal to disclose who’s behind its lobbying activities, disclosures required by law. Senators even got #ChamberofCarbon trending on Twitter.

By year’s end, there were signs of discomfort over at the Chamber. Up popped a post on its website that said that on climate “inaction is not an option.” The Chamber formed a new internal climate change working group. The Chamber of Carbon even quietly posted that it reversed itself on the Paris Agreement and now was for staying in. Baby steps, but in the right direction.

I think the Chamber and NAM became America’s two worst climate obstructors because they were paid to, with fossil fuel dark money, and in 2020 I intend to find that out. If the Chamber is still taking fossil fuel money, it’s hard to take these baby steps seriously. They’re probably just PR, to placate Chamber members they’ve embarrassed by getting themselves caught and outed as a top climate obstructor.

And Chamber members have a lot to be embarrassed about. Allstate, MetLife, IBM, FedEx, Bayer, Ford, United Airlines, Delta, American. They funded and directed a top climate obstructor? Really? Did they know it? Did they know the Chamber — their own organization — was secretly getting fossil fuel money to become a top obstructor?

If they did know, by God they’ve got some explaining to do. If they did not know it, what standard of governance makes it okay for a board member to not even know who’s funding your organization? Look out, board members — we’re not letting that go, either. 2020 is the year we will get to the bottom of all of this nasty mess.

The real test for the Chamber will be whether it puts its back into passing a real, comprehensive climate bill. Will the Chamber stop scheming with climate denial organizations? Will the Chamber stop opposing climate action candidates? That’s the test. This is not a PR test of how little you can get away with; this is a science test of how we keep our planet below 1.5 degrees Celsius global warming.

Do that, and we’ll be talking. Gladly. Until then, expect the pressure on you to rise in 2020.

We called out another miscreant in 2019: Marathon Petroleum.

This gasoline refiner orchestrated the Trump attack on fuel economy standards for automobiles. As I laid out in testimony in a House Oversight subcommittee hearing last year, Marathon pressured members of Congress, governors, and the Trump administration; and the corrupt Trump administration was only too eager to oblige, issuing an error-riddled proposal to freeze the fuel standards.

The Trump administration went after California’s authority under the Clean Air Act to set fuel standards. Trump’s DOJ cooked up a bogus antitrust investigation, I believe, to punish the automakers that had worked with California to hammer out a separate deal on fuel economy standards. It looks like the Trump administration also pressured automakers to support the administration’s legal battle with California. 2020 is the year I hope we expose all this.

In 2019, investors started noticing Marathon’s bad behavior on climate. In September, 200 investors with $6.5 trillion in assets under management sent a letter to 47 U.S. companies — including Marathon — to urge the companies to align their lobbying with the Paris Agreement 2 degrees Celsius climate goal; and to warn that their lobbying against that goal is an investment risk. The four biggest shareholders in Marathon are BlackRock, JPMorgan, State Street and Vanguard. They claim to care about climate; we’ll see in 2020 if they keep condoning all this Marathon misbehavior.

Happily, there are some things the crooked fossil fuel industry apparatus can’t stop. Even with its massive subsidy for fossil fuel, renewables are starting to win on price. New green energy technologies are powering up, like offshore wind and battery storage. Electric vehicles are driving cost down and performance up for consumers. Old coal plants are closing — 546 since 2010; new coal plants are unfinanceable; and 2019 saw Murray Energy become the eighth coal company in a year to file for bankruptcy.

Another trend the industry couldn’t stop was economists, central bankers, Wall Street, real estate professionals and asset managers waking up to the crash risks that climate change poses to the global economy. Climate crash warnings used to be scarce; now, they’re everywhere.

Freddie Mac warns that rising sea levels will prompt a crash in coastal property values worse than the housing crash that caused the 2008 financial crisis.

First Street Foundation found that rising seas have already resulted in $16 billion in lost property values in coastal homes from Maine to Mississippi.

Moody’s warns that climate risk will trigger downgrades in coastal communities’ bond ratings.

BlackRock estimated that by the end of the century, climate change will cause coastal communities annual losses that could average up to 15 percent of local GDP, with hardest-hit ones hit far worse. Look out, Florida.

The Bank of England, Bank of France, Bank of Canada, and European Central Bank — backed by top-tier, peer-reviewed economic papers — are all warning of systemic economic risk — economist-speak for a risk to the entire economy — from stranded fossil fuel assets: the “carbon asset bubble.” The Commodity Futures Trading Commission has launched a climate risk review. Even the Trump Fed is starting to echo those warnings.

And it’s not just big institutions that are grasping the risks of climate change. I visited Louisiana, Wyoming, and Colorado last year to hear about climate change and see what red- and purple-state Americans are doing about it. The answer: plenty.

In Louisiana, sea level rise and subsidence are mega-threats. I met a hunter and fisherman whose personal efforts to restore marshland have allowed his local delta wetlands to rebound from mismanagement. A scientist with the National Wildlife Federation counted over 30 species of birds just while we were waiting to board the boat. The sights and sounds of a healthy marsh were an encouraging reminder of nature’s ability to find a way to not only survive, but to flourish, when allowed.

In Wyoming, where, don’t get me wrong, climate change isn’t always a popular subject, I met a younger generation that really gets it. I won’t forget the determination of winter sports athletes in Jackson fighting to preserve their winters; nor in Lander the impassioned argument for climate action from a young outdoor instructor at NOLS; nor, at their campsite, the fire-lit, passionate faces of Central Wyoming College students, who understand the stakes of climate change for their future and the future of the state they love.

Typically, my road trips land me in states where the fight for climate action needs a boost; the opposite was true in Colorado. It’s a state on a major climate winning streak: a spate of good climate bills passed during the last legislative session; their biggest public utility transitioning to renewable energy, building impressive renewable energy and electric vehicle infrastructure; and leading research bringing new renewable energy technologies to the marketplace.

In 2019, polling showed climate action becoming a top issue for American voters everywhere. A big part is young voters, especially young Republicans. More than three-fourths of all millennials, and a majority of millennial Republicans, agree on the need for climate action. Last year, a Republican former Member of Congress wrote about climate change: “My party will never earn the votes of millennials unless it gets serious about finding solutions.”

It’s not just younger voters. Americans of all ages and political stripes favor many of the solutions that scientists and economists say are needed to tackle climate change. An October 2019 Pew poll found that two thirds of Americans believe the federal government needs to do more to combat climate change. The same poll showed 77 percent of Americans believe the U.S. ought to prioritize developing alternative energy over fossil fuels.

So the decades-long fossil fuel campaign of obstruction and lies and denial won’t be tolerated much longer.

In New England in the springtime, a moment comes when the roof of your house warms enough to send the snow sliding down off your roof in a whoosh. The snow may have piled up slowly, over weeks and months, but it comes down in a sudden whoosh. The fossil fuel industry and its network of front groups and trade associations have spent years piling up their crooked apparatus of climate obstruction. Increasingly, their evil behavior is facing blowback from the public and from regulators and investors. Alarm bells are ringing ever louder from all quarters about the economic risks. Renewable energy and other green technologies are ever more cost competitive. Awareness of climate change dangers is growing among the American people. These are all signs of the thaw; the whoosh is near. 2020 could be the moment.

Mr./Mdm. President, I know things in Washington can seem hopeless, but 2019 gave me plenty of reasons to hope — and for 2020, it’s game on to tear down the crooked castle of climate denial and solve this problem while we still can.

I yield the floor.