December 5, 2018

Time To Wake Up: California Summit & Carbon Fee

As-prepared for delivery

As I rise on the occasion of my 220th “Time To Wake Up” climate speech, there’s plenty of evidence that the possibility of meaningful action on climate change in the United States is perilously low. 

We have a president who – against all the evidence – claims that climate change is a Chinese hoax.  This same president announced last year that he was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement.  He installed the theatrically corrupt Scott Pruitt, who owed his entire political career to the fossil fuel industry, to lead the Environmental Protection Agency.  When Pruitt’s endless string of scandals finally proved too much for even this epically swampy administration, President Trump made a coal industry lobbyist Acting EPA Administrator.  The fundamentally corrupt bargain at the heart of today’s Republican politics is that the Party is essentially bankrolled by the fossil fuel industry. 

This is why you see Republicans seeking to freeze voluntary fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars.  If consumers pay more at the pump to fill up?  Fine.  What matters is that the oil companies sell gas.

This is why the Republican Clean Power Plan doesn’t really reduce carbon emissions.  EPA’s own numbers show that the replacement plan will result in poorer health for Americans, including 1400 additional deaths a year.  But what matters is that the coal companies sell coal.

Republicans even plan to weaken standards on methane leaks.  It doesn’t matter that methane is an extremely potent heat-trapping gas.  What matters is that the oil and gas industry doesn’t have to spend money to prevent these leaks.

So there is lots of evidence that meaningful action on climate change in this country is unlikely.

And yet.

This past Friday, I attended the Global Climate Action Summit, organized by California Governor Jerry Brown, to keep up progress reducing carbon emissions and fighting the effects of climate change.

At the summit, states, cities, provinces, and companies from around the world made new announcements for reducing carbon emissions.

Governor Brown signed a law requiring 100 percent of California’s electricity to be carbon-free by 2045, and committed that California would be carbon-neutral by the same year.  Plus, a satellite to measure carbon emissions.

New Jersey announced plans to install more than 3000 megawatts of offshore wind.

States and cities in India announced plans for thousands of electric buses, cool roofs, and solar-equipped public buildings.

IKEA announced that all of its delivery services will be zero-emissions by 2025.

That’s just a few of the new commitments; evidence of the determination of governors, mayors, CEOs, investors, and NGOs to combat climate change in the failure of leadership from Washington.

But if we are to have any hope of keeping global warming under two degrees Celsius—or better yet, 1.5 degrees—we are going to need leadership here; we are going to need a federal price on carbon.

That’s why last week’s announcement from the Climate Leadership Council was so important. 

The CLC has been working with former Republican Secretaries of State George Schultz and James Baker for a $40-dollar-per-ton fee on carbon emissions that would return all of the money it raised to American families in the form of dividends.  This plan shares many similarities with the American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act, which I have introduced with Senator Brian Schatz.  The CLC plan is supported by many corporations, business leaders, and former Republican officials.

Last week, the CLC announced that its $40/ton carbon fee would result in emissions reductions substantially better than our present national targets.

The CLC also found that 56 percent of Americans, including majorities of Democrats, independents, and Republicans, support it.  Seventy-one percent of millennials support a carbon fee; showing that carbon pricing is coming, the only question is how soon.  Americans intuitively understand that it makes sense to impose a fee on something we want less of, whether it’s carbon emissions or cigarettes.

Last week’s climate summit featured a discussion on carbon pricing organized by the business community.  The fossil fuel industry and its front groups will attack any effort to put a price on carbon emissions, so having companies like Gap, Exelon, Pacific Gas & Electric, and Steelcase speak out in favor of carbon pricing was a good start.  When the business community shows broad-based support for carbon pricing, it will be very difficult to argue that it is bad for business.

But let’s remember that the fossil fuel companies bring heavy artillery to this fight.  Washington State’s carbon fee ballot initiative has provoked Big Oil to spend $20 million to defeat the initiative.  BP, Phillips 66, and others have all already contributed over $3 million each to oppose the initiative.

So it would sure be nice if Washington State’s corporate leaders stood up on this.

Starbucks has a whole webpage about climate change and has committed to purchasing 100 percent renewable energy.    

Amazon has a webpage on its efforts to reduce its carbon footprint, and it too is aiming to go 100 percent renewable. 

Jeff Bezos, one of the world’s richest people, is investing in clean energy, along with that other corporate icon of Washington State, Bill Gates.

Microsoft is hard at work reducing carbon emissions in its operations.  It even has an internal carbon price to encourage reductions in carbon pollution.

Boeing has a webpage cataloguing its efforts to combat climate change by making its airplanes more energy efficient.

So where are they when it comes to their home state’s plan to actually do something about climate change?

As we’ve seen so often here in D.C. as well, it’s radio silence.

Big Oil is actually tiny compared to Microsoft, Amazon, Starbucks, Boeing, and the rest of the tech companies, Wall Street banks and insurance companies, consumer goods companies, retailers, and food and beverage companies that all claim to care about climate change.  Tiny.

The difference is that Big Oil shows up.  It shows up here in Congress.  It funds its army of front groups and trade associations to steer Republicans here in Congress away from anything limiting carbon pollution; just like it’s showing up right now in Washington State to kill an initiative that would limit carbon pollution.

The good guys aren’t showing up.  They don’t show up here in Congress, and they’re letting Big Oil outgun them in Washington State.

If you don’t show up to the game, you don’t win. It’s as simple as that.

That’s the message I took to last week’s summit.  I appreciate business leaders who talk about the dangers of climate change and the value of carbon pricing.  But show up to fight for it.  Show up here in Congress, and in Washington State.  Challenge Big Oil rather than forfeit the game.

This is a fight and we must win.  But we will need companies talking a good game to actually show up on game day.  It is time to wake up.  It is time to show up. 

I yield the floor.