Time to Wake Up 281: To-Do List
Mr. President, I am here for a rather different reason. It is to call on this Chamber yet again to wake up to the urgent threat of climate change.
I wish I was done with these ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ speeches. Frankly, I wish I had never had to deliver a single one.
I wish Congress had dealt with this threat—for instance, back when another Senator from Rhode Island, Republican John Chafee, held hearings on the looming challenge of carbon dioxide pollution. I wish we had dealt with it when the House, under Speaker PELOSI, passed the Waxman-Markey climate change bill, only for Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama to kill it in a Democratic Senate with a filibuster-proof majority.
I wish the Citizens United decision hadn’t allowed the fossil fuel industry to capture the Republican Party and kill the bipartisanship on climate that existed before that decision in this Chamber.
In my church growing up, there was a prayer about things we have left undone that we ought to have done. In that spirit, here is a graphic on carbon emissions we prepared in conjunction with the Biden White House that charts out where we are on this problem.
Green, this line here, is carbon emissions business as usual if we keep kowtowing to the fossil fuel industry here and don’t take serious climate action.
Orange, this line, with quite significant emissions savings, is the Finance Committee’s climate tax package. That is the effect just of that climate tax package if it comes into law.
Down here is a clean electricity standard. If you could put into law a national U.S. clean electricity standard, you could reduce emissions to this gray line. If you were to combine the two, if you were to combine the Finance Committee tax package and the clean electricity standard, you push emissions down to this yellow line.
Look at the blue line. This upper blue line is the carbon savings from a modest price on carbon, one that we have discussed and negotiated with the White House—$15 per ton in 2023, rising to $70 per ton in 2032. Look at how powerful the emissions effect is of that single intervention.
Now, this lowest one that reduces emissions the most, this is the safety pathway. This dark blue emissions line is all of those policies together. That is what they add up to. That is what we could be doing. We could be creating a pathway to safety.
As these emissions results show, a carbon price is the key policy to hit the 50-percent emissions reduction target we have and to get on a pathway to safety. Well, that is not happening right now.
So, while fossil fuel-funded Republicans block legislative action on climate, what could be done through executive action? Regulation. It is not a substitute for ambitious legislation, but it can make a big difference.
The EPA has more or less restored Obama-era fuel economy and greenhouse gas emission standards for cars and light trucks. It has a proposal to regulate methane leakage from oil and gas facilities. It restored an Obama-era rule limiting mercury and other toxic air pollutants from coal-fired powerplants. That is all good, but it is a return to the pre-Trump polluter status quo, not progress—not new progress.
Here is what EPA could still do:
Start with regulations for big, easily identified sources of greenhouse gases, not just coal-fired powerplants but point sources, including in the industrial sector, which generates more than one-fifth of total greenhouse gas emissions. We need a multipronged regulatory approach targeting all major classes of point sources.
We need stronger rules for mercury, coal ash, soot, and other pollutants. Public health demands this, and it is even more urgent in light of climate change.
EPA can update the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule and tighten National Ambient Air Quality Standards.
We need greenhouse gas emission standards for heavy-duty vehicles and for aviation. Focusing just on lightduty vehicles won’t cut it.
Over at the Office of Management and Budget, they could finish an updated social cost of carbon and issue guidance requiring its use throughout—throughout—Agency decisionmaking. This is a big one. The social cost of carbon calculates the long-term damage from carbon pollution, and it should figure in permitting, leasing, grant-making, investments, international development assistance, trade agreements, and procurement.
A Trump judge—likely installed on the Federal Bench using fossil fuel dark money—just blocked the Obamaera social cost of carbon. While that is litigated, the administration is correctly pausing leases, permits, and other actions for greenhouse gas emitters.
At the Department of Interior, stop doling out leases to big polluters. The President promised to end new fossil fuel leases on public lands and waters, so pause them while the social cost of carbon is litigated, and review them all to make sure that taxpayers are paid royalties that reflect the actual cost of fossil fuel production and combustion.
At the Department of Energy, update energy efficiency standards for light bulbs, washing machines, dryers, dishwashers, and all the electric appliances and products we use every day. There is low-hanging fruit there. I hear many of these rules are nearly ready but are held up in bureaucratic delay. Get a move on.
The Department of Energy should also, along with the EPA and the Department of Agriculture, update the renewable fuel standards to ensure that renewable fuels actually generate considerable emissions reductions.
Here is another simple one: Federal procurement.
Update Federal acquisition regulations so Agencies price in the cost of emissions when they are buying products. Do that, and maybe we wouldn’t wind up purchasing Postal Service delivery trucks with internal combustion engines no more efficient than their decades-old predecessors. Heck, we might even end up with clean, highperforming electric postal trucks. There is more to this regulatory list, but let me leave it there.
With legislation and regulation ought to come litigation. There are States, cities, counties across the country that have filed lawsuits against the fossil fuel industry based on local harm suffered as a result of climate change, and there is precedent for those at the Federal level.
In 1999, the Justice Department filed a civil lawsuit against Big Tobacco and its front groups, charging that they ‘‘engaged in and executed—and continue to engage in and execute—a massive 50-year scheme to defraud the public.’’ That is the language in the Department of Justice’s complaint.
Well, it went to trial, and a few years later, U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler agreed. She found that the tobacco industry had ‘‘coordinated significant aspects of their public relations, scientific, legal, and marketing activity in furtherance of a shared objective—to . . . maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for cigarettes through a scheme to deceive the public.’’ That is the language in the decision, ‘‘a scheme to deceive.’’
So here is a useful exercise: Pop out the word ‘‘cigarettes’’ in that decision, and drop in ‘‘fossil fuel.’’ Judge Kessler’s finding in the tobacco case describes exactly what the fossil fuel industry has perpetrated: ‘‘coordinated significant aspects of their public relations, scientific, legal, and marketing activity in furtherance of a shared objective—to . . . maximize industry profits by preserving and expanding the market for fossil fuels through a scheme to deceive the public.’’
Nothing—nothing—prevents the Department of Justice from at least investigating whether to follow its own successful blueprint; yet nothing has been done.
Progress will be easier on climate if we take on the fossil fuel-funded front groups that are armed to the teeth with dark money political weaponry. With proper countermeasures like exposure, we can help achieve victory on climate by exposing the rightwing, dark money groups fomenting and funding climate obstruction very likely as part of a scheme to deceive the public.
I will end with an example from a book I read recently about a ship that went down.
In September 1857, the S.S. Central America, which was known as the ‘‘Ship of Gold,’’ set sail from California to New York City with nearly 600 passengers and crew and 30,000 pounds of gold from the California Gold Rush. A few hundred miles off the Carolina coast, a hurricane hit the S.S. Central America. In the teeth of the gales, the passengers and crew did everything they could. Stewards and waiters and other staff were taken off their regular duties to fight the storm, to fight the flooding. Passengers were put into service to save the stricken ship. Heavy cargo was thrown overboard. In fact, divers are, right now, down, recovering the gold that was thrown overboard to save the ship. The ship itself—its doors and panels—were broken up to help block the sea out or were thrown overboard to lighten the stricken ship. At the end—at the end— passengers and crew were side by side, deep in the hold, shoulder deep in water, desperately pumping to save the ship.
The lesson here: The passengers and crew did everything they could, but at each step, they started too late. They ultimately took all the necessary measures, but each one—each one— they took too late, and the ship sank.
I fear that that is the analogy for our present predicament. Indolence in the face of known danger is a particularly stupid form of cowardice. It is made worse here by a fossil fuel industry that pays people to block our efforts to save the ship.
For the steamship the S.S. Central America, there was another boat that stood by in the storm to help rescue passengers, and out of the 600 men and women on that ship, a few dozen were saved. Us? We have no other planet standing by. This is our chance for this ship of ours, and it is time to wake up. It is time to take self-rescue seriously by every available means—and fast.
I yield the floor.
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