January 27, 2021

Time to Wake Up 279: Finale

Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Mr. President, I am particularly glad to see the senior Senator from New Mexico presiding on what, for me, is a sentimental moment, because he has been such a terrific friend and colleague and advocate in the battle of climate change.

I am here today because, at last, it is time to say farewell to my battered “Time to Wake Up” image board here and to a run of more than 275 weekly climate speeches. It has been one of the Senate’s longer runs, I believe, but I think it is time to say farewell.

This long run began in the dark days of 2012, after Speaker Pelosi had passed a serious climate bill and the Senate had refused to take up anything, not even a blank bill to go to conference with and see what could be done in conference. As some of us remember all too well, when Speaker Pelosi passed that bill in 2009 over on the House side, we had here in the Senate a filibuster-proof Democratic majority. This was climate change, and we just walked away. I was told then that it was because the Obama White House told Leader Reid to pull the plug, that after the ObamaCare wars, the White House was tired of conflict and didn’t want another big battle. It was not going to take on any fights it wasn’t sure it could win.

Think about that. Think of history’s great battles and contests, legislative or otherwise, and consider in how many of those battles either side was sure it would win. If you limit yourself to battles you are sure you can win, you are pretty much sure to miss the most important battles, and we lost this one for that most lamentable of reasons–the failure to try. The fossil fuel industry, sure enough, knew it won this one once it saw the Obama administration walk off the field, abandoning Speaker Pelosi’s hard-fought victory.

Then years went by in which you could scarcely get a Democratic administration to put the words “climate” and “change” into the same paragraph in which we fussed, idiotically, about whether to call it “climate change” or “global warming”; in which the bully pulpit–the great Presidential megaphone in the hands of one of our most articulate Presidents–stood mute. We quavered about polling showing climate as issue 8 or issue 10, ignoring that we had a say in that outcome. When we wouldn’t even use the phrase, let alone make the case, no wonder the public didn’t see climate change as a priority.

Those were, for me, dark, desolate days, so I made a commitment to speak about climate change every single week we were in session–no matter what. The kitchen was dark; the oven was cold, but maybe, somehow, one little pilot light’s clicking on every week would help.

Six years after the Waxman-Markey climate bill passed the House, the Obama EPA finalized its marquee climate regulation, which was quickly killed dead in the starting block by the five Republicans on the Supreme Court.

The Clean Power Plan never even went into effect. It had no regulatory core or backstop that was indisputably within EPA’s authority. So when the Clean Power Plan’s novelties got smacked down, nothing was left.

John Kerry, bless him, led us into the Paris Agreement, but it wasn’t signed until the last year of 8 years of that administration. It being so late, the fossil fuel interests behind Trump hauled us right back out of it.

So there we were, after 8 years in which Democrats sometimes controlled both Houses of Congress as well as the White House, and we had, at the end of the day, no law, no regulations, no treaty. I am hanging up the “Time to Wake Up” poster after more than 275 of these speeches because I am going to trust that we bring more spirit and determination to the climate crisis this time, as President Biden has promised that we will.

His opening Executive orders are a fine start. I appreciate particularly the restoration of the social cost of carbon, but perhaps the most important signal is not any specific policy but thevbreadth of the scope of the emphasis on climate across the new Biden administration.

Then we had to deal with the Trump years, when sins of omission became sins of commission, and questions of commitment became questions of corruption.

I am personally confident that evidence will reveal that the Trump administration was, in fact, corrupt on climate issues–and not just corrupt in the meaning of the Founding Fathers but corrupt in the meaning of the U.S. Criminal Code, and I will do my level best to make sure we find out. Thank goodness, we can put that disgraceful period of our history behind us.

What did I learn along the way? I traveled to many of my Republican colleagues’ home States on climate trips to help me understand the climate change problem there. There is no State whose big State universities deny climate change. Most all of them teach it. So I knew it wasn’t lack of knowledge that was blocking progress.

I learned that oceans are at the heart of the climate threat. First, they bear incontrovertible testimony to the dangers. Try arguing with thermometers that measure ocean warming. Try arguing with tide gauges that measure sea level rise. Try arguing with pH tests that school children can do that measure the acidification of our oceans.

I learned that the oceans are suffering extraordinary injury from warming at the rate of multiple nuclear explosions per second and acidification at rates unprecedented in human existence, and from the fossil fuel industry’s plastics contaminating our oceans.

In every State I went to, there were businesses alarmed by climate change, whether it was wildfire or flooding or the loss of iconic views and species, upheaval of fisheries and growing conditions of crops or business risk and recreation imperiled.

I heard from western fishermen about warming trout streams and a Glacier National Park with no glacier, and saw ancient western forests dying by the square mile to the bark beetle.

I heard from coastal States about new pests and poisonous algae and flooding risks and fisheries in upheaval. And the Great Lakes, I heard, face similar threats as the ocean coasts.

I heard in the Presiding Officer’s State of Nordic ski trails made mud because you can’t do artificial snow like on ski slopes, and moose tours–moose tours–that visitors promised never to do again because once you made it down the mud trail, the moose were crawling with thousands of ticks, eating them alive. Things that winter used to clean up but did no longer.

One day I wept in National Airport, sitting at one of those little round linoleum-topped food tables, reading Pope Francis’s new encyclical, “Laudato Si: On Care For Our Common Home.” Climate effects were everywhere. That wasn’t the problem.

So I began looking at the fossil fuel industry and studying the dark money apparatus that it uses to spread climate denial and to obstruct climate progress.

I recalled our bipartisanship here in the Senate before Citizens United, and I saw the death of bipartisanship after, when the fossil fuel industry upgraded its weaponry from political muskets to tactical nukes and set about subjugating the Republican Party.

I came to like and admire Bob Inglis, a conservative the fossil fuel industry could not subjugate. So, instead, they made an example of him for his climate heresy and crushed him politically.

I came with groups of Senators to the floor to identify and call out this corrupt and corrupting fossil fuel web of denial. I came to know and admire the tough band of investigators, writers, and academic researchers who examine and document this corrupt apparatus.

I saw how this apparatus insinuated itself into the U.S. Chamber of Commerce an the National Association of Manufacturers and turned those two business groups into America’s two worst climate obstructors.

Thank you, InfluenceMap, for that research.

I learned the ways the industry hid the money trail leading to its front groups through shell corporations, through Donors Trust, through 501(c)(4)s. And I finally came to the realization that this industry was running a massive, covert operation–probably the biggest covert disinformation and political intimidation op in history, and it was running this covert op in and against our own country.

Another thing I learned was how little political effort America’s corporations put into doing anything about climate change here in Congress. A lot of them put happy green talk on their websites. They had their consumer relations and public relations and investor relations people spread the happy green talk around. Many of them actually hired sustainability officers and, where it made them money, began changing their internal behavior to actually be more sustainable.

Sometimes more attention was paid to heralding those sustainability programs than there actually was to sustaining anything, but sometimes it was sincere. Bravo to those companies that have really changed the way they operate within their corporate bounds. And a few took climate change seriously enough to start pushing sustainability out their supply chains.

But none–none–took climate change seriously in Congress. This was a battlefield they avoided. Their trade associations were a nightmare. Every one of them–beverages, insurance, banking, chemical, agricultural–you name it, every one of them was silent or worse. Now at last–at last–that seems to be changing.

Here is the 2020 lobbying pitch for Silicon Valley tech giants–the biggest corporations in America, many of the most successful corporations of America, hundreds of American corporations, almost all of which pride themselves on their greenness. They lobby us through a group called TechNet. Here is their pitch sheet–13 pages of bulleted priorities they wanted Congress to achieve, and not one mention–not one mention–of climate change. Not one, not even a mention of renewables from a trade association that has renewables companies in its membership–until now. Until now. I was just notified that TechNet has noticed this omission in its document and that it intends to rectify the error. Good.

Change has even come to the biggest and most obstructive lobby group of them all–the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. I spent a lot of time chasing them with hashtag “chamberofcarbon.” I stood out in front of their headquarters and put up a sign that said “Carbon” blocking where it said “Commerce,” so their own building said “U.S. Chamber of Carbon.” They were my nemesis–hostile to climate action in the legislative branch, hostile to climate action in the executive branch and regulatory agencies, hostile to climate action in the judiciary in cases that were being brought about climate. They were the beast. Well, last week, the chamber announced a dramatic reversal–that it will now support a serious, market-based climate solution. That–that– is a big shift. And if they fight for climate action anywhere near as forcefully as they fought against it, it could make a big difference. So TBD as to how this turns out over at the chamber, but a tentative big thumbs up.

So as I close my run of Time to Wake Ups, where are we? Well, we again control the House, and the Senate, and the White House, and this time I hope we will be serious.

Senator Markey has joined me, and I mentioned earlier in the speech Nancy Pelosi championing an actual serious climate bill through the House and lamented the Senate’s failure to do one damn thing once we had the House bill over here to act on.

That bill was called Waxman-Markey. It was the work of Congressman Waxman and Congressman, now-Senator, Markey. With Senator Markey over here, maybe this time we will be serious in the Senate with all of these departments of government control.

The latent bipartisanship here in the Senate that the fossil fuel industry suppressed is still there. It has been there all along. Talking to some of my colleagues about climate change has been a little bit like talking to prisoners about escape, but the latent bipartisanship did not go away. With these other changes–with corporate America beginning to show up, with the big trade associations becoming less horrible, I am hopeful for a serious bipartisan bill. And if we can’t get good-faith bipartisanship, well, we have got reconciliation.

Senator McConnell can’t block bipartisan climate bills from coming to the floor any longer. So there is a point to legislating. There is a point to advocates showing up. So maybe corporate America will show up and push back on fossil fuel’s subjugation of the Republican Party. A good, hard look at the fossil fuel climate denial machinery can put that corrupt machine back on its heels. In my view, it would be dereliction and malpractice to ignore that apparatus and its treacherous role.

In trade associations, revolts are already taking place, within the chamber and NAM, by members horrified to be outed as supporting America’s worst climate obstructors. Want faster change there? Disclose the fossil fuel money that bought the climate obstruction. That will speed things along.

The finance and agriculture sectors and our coastal economies all are looking down the barrel of multiple and serious economic crash warnings. Banks, insurance companies, Freddie Mac, sovereign banks, wherever you look in the world of finance, there are dramatic, dire warnings from sober, serious bean-counter people who are not there to be green. They are there to make green. So corporate climate concerns have moved from the communications shop to business operations and the C-suites.

The famous author Mary Renault, who wrote wonderful historical novels, said: “There is only one kind of shock worse than the totally unexpected: the expected for which one has refused to prepare.” There has never been a crisis or a catastrophe more warned about by more and more credible sources than the looming climate crisis, and it is going to clobber these businesses. Now they just need to align their political effort with their own stated policies. How hard is that?

All of this can break the right way. The dark castle of denial can fall, and Congress can rise in bipartisan force to stop the harm and cure the damage. But that is not foreordained. We can still screw this up. No doubt about it. So let’s not. Let’s do our duty. The conditions are at last–at last–in place for a real solution. A new dawn is breaking, and when it is dawn, there is no need for my little candle against the darkness. My little “Time to Wake Up” pilot light can now go out.

So instead of urging that it is time to wake up, I close this long run by saying now, it is time to get to work. Whitehouse “Time to Wake Up” run, farewell.

Whitehouse at least on time to wake up–out. efore my friend leaves, I just want him to know that I relished the opportunity to be h I yield the floor.