April 27, 2023

Time to Wake Up 288: Republicans’ Oily Wish List

Madam President, I am back now for the 288th time with my trusty, battered ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ poster to call attention to the climate crisis.

Over the 10-plus years that I have been doing these speeches, I have shown how climate change affects our ecosystems, industries, economy, public health, kids, workers, our elderly. I have even conducted a science experiment right here on the Senate floor, to the dismay of the Senate staff.

One near constant in these speeches has been the oily, often covert hand of the fossil fuel industry lurking behind the opposition to climate action through its campaign of climate denial, delay, and obstruction. From the late 1980s, when Congress first became aware of climate change, through the period after the 2010 Citizens United decision when special interests could anonymously pour unlimited money into elections, the fossil fuel industry has blocked every serious climate bill in Congress until the Inflation Reduction Act.

Key to this obstruction was the strategic insight that they only needed to capture one political party to strangle legislative action. So the fossil fuel industry captured the Republican Party and has prevented climate action for over three decades, except when we were able to use the extraordinary process of reconciliation. That was just last year. Democrats had control of the House and Senate and passed the Inflation Reduction Act via budget reconciliation. Congress finally acted on climate.

There is lots more that Congress still needs to do on climate, but the IRA was a big, meaningful bill that powered up tax incentives for clean energy and put a price on oil and gas methane emissions. In the 10-plus years I have been documenting the fossil fuel industry’s hold over the Republican Party, I have provided lots of concrete examples, from election spending to phony front groups by the flotilla, to polluter lackeys installed at the Trump EPA.

But nothing tops the debt limit proposal Speaker MCCARTHY released last week, the ‘‘Default on America Act,’’ which the House just passed. MAGA House Republicans like to claim to care about debt and deficits— except, of course, in 2017, when they passed massive tax cuts for the wealthy and large corporations that added trillions to the debt and except when the debt increased by more than $7 trillion under President Trump. They are a fountain of fiscal hypocrisy.

So no surprise that the MCCARTHY package has little to do with reducing debt and deficits and everything to do with providing goodies to big Republican donors, in particular the fossil fuel industry. Before I get into all the oily, corrupt deals for big polluters, a few words about the rest of the proposal. MCCARTHY calling this monstrosity the Limit, Save, Grow Act would make George Orwell blush.

In reality, MCCARTHY’s plan would result in unlimited carbon pollution, massive losses to the Federal Government and American families and businesses, and very likely crashes in whole sectors of the economy—some limit, save, and growth.

First, it would rescind the extra funding we provided to the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats. This would add $120 billion to the deficit. For them, ‘‘limit, save, and grow’’ means limit IRS enforcement, save their big donors money paying their taxes, and grow their own campaign contributions. Federal programs would face indiscriminate cuts of up to 33 percent across research, science, housing, addiction treatment, national parks, transportation, law enforcement, border security, drug enforcement, and criminal prosecutions.

If you want to defund the police, Speaker MCCARTHY is your new poster boy.

The public hates all that stuff, so why pursue stuff that the public hates? Why threaten to set off the U.S. default handgrenade to get this done? Who wins? Creepy billionaires who hate the Federal Government and fund KEVIN MCCARTHY—chief among them, the fossil fuel industry.

 For his big fossil fuel industry donors, MCCARTHY delivers four huge giveaways. First, they take away the clean energy tax credits we passed in the IRA. Second, they let fossil fuel interests leak polluting methane emissions with no pollution fee. Third, they prop up dying fossil fuel infrastructure with so-called permitting reform targeted to help only fossil fuel. And fourth, they make it harder to protect against water and air pollution.

This oily wish list is not about debt or deficits, and it is not about growing the economy as it risks serious economic downturns. It is about taking care of the industry whose dark money funds their party.

Look at the clean energy tax credits which MCCARTHY claims are wasteful spending. It now appears that those tax credits will incentivize more investment than expected. So what is MCCARTHY’s argument? There will be too much investment? Seriously? Already, in less than a year, the IRA’s clean energy tax credits have encouraged over 100 projects that will create north of 100,000 jobs. With time, the IRA could easily create over a million jobs—high-paying manufacturing jobs, the kind we should want.

Many projects are in districts in the South and Midwest represented by Republicans. Indeed, many House Republicans have cheered the very IRA-catalyzed projects they are now trying to torpedo. Seriously. Back home, they celebrate the jobs for their constituents. Here in DC, they vote to eliminate the very tax credits that created them—all to serve fossil fuel polluters.

Here are some of my favorite House Republican quotes celebrating IRA catalyzed investments in Republican home districts.

This is the largest investment in the State of Georgia’s history”— One said— one that will diversify and expand our economy while providing strong job opportunities for Georgians today and for generations to come.” And then a ‘‘no’’ vote against the IRA.

“I’m thrilled that Honda has once again committed to Ohio and our workers with today’s announcement of a $3.5 billion investment in EV production and a new battery plant within Ohio’s 15th Congressional District. I look forward to working Honda and LG Energy Solution to bring 2,200 new jobs to the Buckeye State.” And then voted to wipe out the program.

“I am thrilled to welcome ENTEK to Terre Haute and to the Hoosier state. As the only American company to own and produce ‘‘wet-process’’ lithium-ion battery separator materials, ENTEK is going to help to pave the way for electric vehicle production in Indiana and reduce American manufacturers’ reliance on imported products. Their operation in Terre Haute will create hundreds of new jobs.” And then voted to strip out the tax credits behind them.

“I am honored to stand with other state and federal leaders during this groundbreaking event as the first solar energy microgrid-powered industrial site project was unveiled in Jackson County. I know this important project will . . . stimulate economic growth that will create new jobs in West Virginia.” And then voted against the tax credits.

Where are the common themes here? Well, clean energy investments grow the economy and create jobs. These investments will help America compete against imports from overseas. Usually, Republicans can’t stop talking about how we need to reduce our dependence on Chinese imports and build up our own manufacturing industry—until their fossil fuel overlords tell them otherwise. Then they vote against the credits that encourage domestic manufacturing of the clean energy technologies that will dominate the economy of tomorrow.

What a terrible bet. Republicans can’t beat China with the energy and technologies of the last century. No amount of fossil fuel-funded obstruction here at home is going to stop the clean energy revolution happening in the rest of the world. In Europe last year, more than 12 percent of cars sold were fully electric, up from less than 2 percent just back in 2019. Europe is investing massively in wind and solar and green hydrogen, particularly after the Russian invasion of Ukraine demonstrated just how dangerous dependence on fossil fuels can be.

In China last year, 22 percent of cars sold were fully electric, towards the goal of 40 percent of all cars sold fully electric in 2030. China is, by far, the largest installer of wind and solar power, with ambitions to dominate the clean energy technologies of tomorrow.

In most places, renewable energy is now the cheapest form of energy—far cheaper than fossil fuel. So the rest of the world is going all-in on wind, solar, batteries, green hydrogen, and other clean technologies for their low-cost energy. And that savings doesn’t even count the trillions of dollars of value from avoiding the costs and harms of fossil fuel pollution.

The future is clean tech. And there are fortunes to be made. Many of these clean energy technologies were developed right here by our scientists and engineers at our companies and national labs. But the fossil fuel industry wants America to lose our technological leadership and all the business opportunities that flow from it.

Remember limit, save, grow? If you want that for real: limit pollution, save clean energy jobs, and grow the economy. The fossil fuel industry behind this is the most subsidized industry on the planet. It lives off public money and political influence. It gets to pollute for free.

Just today in the Budget Committee, we heard testimony that fossil fuel combustion, by warming the planet and polluting the air, costs America over $800 billion per year in health costs. The International Monetary Fund puts the effective subsidy in the U.S. for fossil fuels at almost $700 billion per year.

If fossil fuel-funded Republicans want to talk about picking winners and losers, bring it on. Their fossil fuel donors enjoy the biggest subsidy in world history. If fossil-fuel-funded Republicans want to talk about free markets, bring it on. Market economics 101 teaches that the cost of your pollution should be in the price of your product. But fossil-fuel-funded Republicans protect free polluting for fossil fuel.

It is not just costs that fossil fuels impose on the rest of us. It is risks— economic risks associated with climate change. Central bankers, economists, insurance CEOs, financial experts, and other witnesses—serious grownups whose judgments are fiduciary—have come to the Budget Committee to warn of systemic risks to the economy, including a collapse in coastal property values and a carbon bubble resulting from stranded fossil fuel assets.

Now, ‘‘systemic risks’’ sounds pretty mild. It is not. It is when catastrophe spreads from one troubled sector across the entire economy, much as the 2008 meltdown in the mortgage market spread across the country to become the financial crisis and Great Recession, which, by the way, resulted in an additional $5 trillion in government debt. Disaster avoidance is debt reduction.

The stakes are huge. The consulting firm Deloitte estimates that the global cost of doing nothing on climate is around $180 trillion in economic damage—$180 trillion. But they go on to say that if we act responsibly and limit warming to 1.7 degrees Celsius, we can save ourselves from that and actually grow the global economy by $40 trillion.

So you want limit, save, and grow? In this case, if you do it right by limiting pollution and saving clean energy jobs and growing the economy, the swing is $220 trillion between a bad climate outcome and a responsible climate outcome.

But the corrupt fossil fuel industry says ‘‘jump,’’ and KEVIN MCCARTHY and MAGA Republicans say ‘‘how high?’’ Here is a ‘‘how high″: They eliminate the fee on wasteful methane emissions that I worked to include in the IRA. The methane pollution fee will raise $6 billion against the deficit and save even more from avoided climate and air pollution damage.

But the rotten House plan was never about cutting debt and deficits, always about delivering for the fossil fuel overlords. So out goes the methane program. Methane traps 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, at least in the short run, and it creates air pollution that sickens people across the country.

This is a satellite image of a methane plume. You can actually detect methane plumes from space now, which is why charging a fee for polluting makes so much sense, because you can find the polluter quite easily. This one is being released from an oil well. Now, the operator of this oil well could capture this methane and sell it. It is natural gas. But, instead, oil companies like this just release it. Pure waste. Pure pollution.

Putting a price on methane emissions will dramatically reduce this pollution and raise budget balancing revenues. But MCCARTHY doesn’t care; the industry funds his caucus. So out goes the budget-balancing, pollution-preventing methane fee.

Next in the fossil fuel-funded parade of horribles is a permitting reform stuffed with giveaways to—you guessed it—the fossil fuel industry. What the hell does permitting reform have to do with the debt limit, you might ask? Well, good question. Does building in more fossil fuel even make sense? The world is moving off fossil fuels. Peak oil will occur, and demand will begin to decline.

Once demand begins to decline, the oil cartel will collapse in a rush for the exits, causing serious economic turbulence as fossil fuel assets are stranded, particularly in high production cost countries like the United States of America. This is the global production cost curve for oil. As you can see, Persian Gulf oil is far cheaper to produce than U.S. oil.

Here we are. So when there is a rush for the exits, and instead of cheating the world with cartel pricing, they go to cost-plus pricing, and we are out of business in the U.S. fossil fuel industry, and American fossil fuel infrastructure becomes hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of useless, stranded assets. But fossil fuel says ‘‘jump,’’ and House Republicans say ‘‘how high?’’

Last in this fossil fuel wish list is a provision to make it next to impossible for EPA to promulgate regulations limiting air and water pollution. Again, deregulating polluters has nothing to do with the debt limit, but the fossil fuel industry wants it. So it is in.

In just the last few months, we have seen what Republican deregulation means for American families and businesses. We saw it in East Palestine, OH, when a train derailment resulted in a major spill of toxic chemicals. We saw it in Northern California when Silicon Valley Bank went belly-up.

Both of these events could have been prevented with better regulations. Both harmed American families and businesses. Protecting Americans from air and water pollution with good regulations always pays because the costs associated with air and water pollution are enormous. But fossil fuel does a lot of air and water pollution.

So here is another fact giveaway to the fossil fuel industry. If you ever needed proof that the Republican Party is the wholly owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, MCCARTHY’s debt limit package is that proof.

Amazingly, almost 280 pages out of a 320-page bill are devoted to fossil fuel industry giveaways. Here are 320 pages; 280 of these pages are blue. The remaining 40 are white. So this is a visual image of how much of the ‘‘Default on America’’ bill is devoted to making nice for the fossil fuel industry versus everything else.

It is like a bunch of delivery boys for the fossil fuel industry over there. This bill isn’t about debt and deficits. It is not about limiting or saving or growing. It is about serving fossil fuel—the source of the money that keeps them in power. Period.

Oil and gas extraction represents only about 5 percent of our GDP. Farming, manufacturing, food and beverage, insurance, finance, restaurants, retail, housing, healthcare—all representing a larger share of GDP.

Clean energy actually now accounts for more employment than the fossil fuel industry. But for subsidies, nothing compares to fossil fuel. So for political influence, to protect those massive subsidies, nothing compares to fossil fuel.

There is actually a bug—an insect— that infiltrates another bug and takes over the other bug’s nervous system. And from inside the other bug, it drives it around. It is kind of a creepy, natural development. It happens in the insect world. And it looks like it happened on the other side of the building, because what the fossil fuel industry has done is to take over the Republican Party and now just drive it around.

So fossil fuel money makes the MCCARTHY package serve its Big Oil master. It is a deeply sad and dangerous state of affairs when one of America’s two main political parties abandons all pretense of responsible governance just to service its prime political benefactor.

That is what Speaker MCCARTHY and House Republicans are doing. That is this bill.

They threaten default, propose terrible cuts, deny climate warnings, and are willing to kneecap the American economy, all in service to the fossil fuel industry and its dark money.

It is time to fix our democracy so that it functions honestly and this nonsense stops.

It is time to wake up.