November 10, 2020

TIme to Wake Up 274: Glimmer of Light

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, as I begin my remarks, let me thank my friend Senator Lankford for his eloquent comments about our veterans and those who have served and given their lives for us.

I am here with my trusty and battered “Time to Wake up” graphic because, after 4 dark years on climate, there is at last a glimmer of light on the horizon.

President-Elect Biden has promised to redirect the executive branch to address climate change in the clear light of real science, out of the dark swamp of fossil fuel denial and obstruction trying to head off a climate catastrophe while there is still time, if there is still time.

There is a lot the executive branch can do. The President can lead diplomatic and international trade initiatives. The environmental regulatory agencies of government can be freed from corrupting influence to do their duty with vigor based on science and the law. Securities regulators can put climate risk to the economy at the forefront, as the Commodity Futures Trading Commission has just done. Purchasing decisions can be directed toward a clean energy future. Permitting decisions can be made with the social cost of carbon pollution in mind, as courts have already begun to demand even in the corrupt Trump era.

On the investigative side, the administration can begin a hard look at the forces of corruption that have blockaded action on climate change: Who did this and how? Did their political spending violate campaign finance, conflict of interest, or other laws? Did their toxic propaganda violate laws against fraud, as the tobacco industry’s did? Was their occupation of regulatory agencies a rolling conspiracy to violate the Administrative Procedures Act, and if so, how and for whom was it organized? Has their interference in the judiciary compromised the rights of parties or the integrity of courts?

American citizens deserve a full and fearless exposition of why Congress has thwarted the public will to do something–anything– meaningful to address this climate crisis and at whose behest. What were the forces of corruption, and how did they accomplish their nefarious purpose? There is a lesson in democracy here for the citizens of this great Republic–a lesson that is now hidden behind phony front groups and subterranean rivers of anonymous money. There is every reason to believe that the biggest covert op in history has been run in and against our own government. That is no way for a “city on a hilll” to be governed.

But with all the executive branch policy work and all the investigations that are due and overdue, there is no pathway to climate safety that does not go through Congress. Action by Congress is a necessity, not a luxury. I have seen no study showing any pathway to safety without action by Congress.

To make that pathway to safety possible, we will have to change a few things. One is, as I said, to investigate the denial and obstruction campaign run by the fossil fuel industry, how it used its dark weaponry of political spending–much of it anonymous–and political propaganda. The executive branch can do this, but so can the House. Sadly, here in the Senate, the power of the fossil fuel industry assures no such investigation will happen in our committees if Republicans keep control of the Senate. But the House or a high-level Presidential commission or our Department of Justice all have tools to bring the light of transparency into these dark and slimy corners.

Separately, we can display to the American people what corporate America says about climate change versus what it does in Congress. It may even surprise some CEOs what their corporate lobbying posture actually is. If you are a CEO who is sincere about this, you ought to commission an audit of your corporate lobbying and electioneering on climate. Here is what you will find, unless you are maybe Patagonia or Ben & Jerry’s: Most every major American corporation does nothing in Congress on climate- zip, zero, nada.

TechNet lobbies for the supposedly climate-friendly Silicon Valley giants like Apple, Google, Facebook, and Microsoft. It even represents green energy companies. Yet this year its glossy, 13-page menu of priorities for Congress never even mentioned climate change or green energy.

Coke and Pepsi lobby Congress through an American Beverage Association that doesn’t lift a finger on climate. That corporate behemoth, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce- three times the lobbying muscle of its next nearest rival, sometimes the biggest dark-money spender in elections, a persistent voice in our courts and regulatory agencies– that chamber is in a statistical tie for America’s worst climate obstructer- worst.

Representing Ford and GM, Abbott Labs and Johnson & Johnson, Citibank and Bank of America, Delta and United, Target and Home Depot, Intel and AT&T, and dozens of other big businesses is a worst climate obstructer in America. That deserves some explaining.

Don’t just blame Congress. By doing nothing, Congress is exactly following what corporate America actually asks of Congress: Do nothing. Do nothing. We don’t care.

Want to open a pathway for a safe climate through Congress? Republicans in Congress are going to have to hear that their corporate benefactors demand climate action. They aren’t hearing that now. They are hearing the opposite. They are hearing: We don’t care.

Democrats are ready. We have been ready for a decade. Republicans, at least since Citizens United–it was quite bipartisan before that decision–won’t touch the issue, and by an amazing coincidence, that party is almost entirely funded by the unlimited and often anonymous donations of the fossil fuel industry. The money is often hidden, of course, behind donor trusts and shell corporations and 501(c)(4) tax organizations, but it is there, and it is billions.

The rest of corporate America has not pushed back. They have their own tax breaks to protect and their own industry priorities to pursue, and climate change just doesn’t make it into their corporate political agenda. Getting the so-called good guys off the bench and onto the field could make a big difference, but they are not there now- not yet.

If corporations are going to fail this moral test so catastrophically, it is fair to ask what good it does to give corporations any role in our politics, let alone the commanding role they now assert in the U.S. Congress. The Founding Fathers, for one, would be astonished to see these monsters loose in our politics at all, let alone so large and in charge.

But that is for another day. Right now, there is a lot President- Elect Biden can do to break the political logjam fossil fuel money has built: Investigate it, expose it, and then overwhelm it. Recruit allies to help push back hard. Give no audience or corner to corporations funding climate obstruction. Make lobbying groups disclose who their big donors are so the American citizen isn’t played for a chump- the mark in a giant con game.

If you don’t think big American industries are capable of committing massive fraud, read the decision of the Federal judge in the fraud case the United States won against Big Tobacco for that scheme of lies or read the decision of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding her verdict. It took investigation to get to the truth, not politics. Indeed, investigation had to pierce through a fog of industry politics and lies. But at the end of the day and, more specifically, at the end of the investigation, the truth was out, and the truth was massive industry fraud

I yield the floor.