March 23, 2018

Time to Wake Up: Climate Progress

Mr. President, we are more aware than ever of the accelerating pace of climate change and of the serious threat that rising seas, higher temperatures, and changing weather poses. I suppose I don’t need to lecture the Presiding Officer from Florida on the threat of rising seas.

The real-time effects of climate change are becoming clearer and clearer every year. Here is a telling example unfolding right now in the Arctic.

In this graphic, we see the mean area of Arctic sea ice over the last several decades. The maximum yearly extent of the ice, which occurs around this time of year, continues to shrink each decade.

This line tracks the sea ice in the Arctic in millions of square kilometers, running from February through to May. This is the track of the sea ice extent during the 1980s. If you take all the years in the 1980s and you average them together and you run through the calendar, it is like a clock going this way through these months. You would see the sea ice growing and fading away as spring came to the Arctic.

That is where the ice was when averaging the 1980s. This green line is the exact same thing; it is just for the 1990s. So we can see how much sea ice has been lost averaged decade over decade.

The blue line here is for 2000. Once again, we see a loss of sea ice—a considerable loss from the levels back as recently as the 1980s.

The purple line right here is the average of the years in this decade so far, from 2010 to 2017—that is the average of those 7 years. This dot is the high, the maximum ice extent recorded in 2016. This lower dot is the lower high of the ice recorded in 2017. So you can see that even though this is the average, the trend remains downward.

This red line is what we have measured so far in 2018. Here we are right now in March of 2018, and it is well below. Decade after decade, we see the ice melting away. As these facts and so many others relentlessly pile up, it has become harder and harder for the fossil fuel industry and the web of front groups and the Trump administration officials who do its bidding to claim that there is nothing to see here: Folks, move along; it is all just a big hoax.

The University of Alaska is our closest university to the Arctic. The University of Alaska actually has a climate science center where they are studying and teaching the science of climate change. The University of Alaska also actually has the Ocean Acidification Research Center. As I have pointed out in these speeches over the years, one of the most obvious and pernicious consequences of climate change is that when you ramp the CO2 concentration in the atmosphere, the oceans, which cover 70 percent of the surface of the world, absorb not only excess heat, but they actually chemically absorb the carbon dioxide. When that happens, they become more acidic. In the wee hours of a morning months and months ago, I actually did the experiment right here, where I blew the carbon dioxide from my breath through an aquarium bubbler into a glass of water that had pH-sensitive dye in it, and you could see, in the moment that it took for me to exhale that carbon-dioxide-rich breath through the water, how the color changed, and you could measure it against the color chart for pH and see how just that one breath changed the acidity of the water and made it more acid.

That is happening across the planet, and it affects creatures like terrapods, which are a very important species for salmon, which is, in turn, a very important industry for Alaska. That is why Alaska has the Ocean Acidification Research Center—some hoax.

For this, my 201st ‘‘Time to Wake Up’’ speech, I wish to get into some of the reasons why I remain optimistic even in the face of relentless attacks on the environment, both from the fossil fuel industry and from the Trump administration. There are success stories, including bipartisan wins in Congress and major advances outside of Congress. We are still making progress on climate and energy policy, even under political siege by the fossil fuel industry.

First, there is an explosion in renewable energy. In 2017, renewables provided nearly 20 percent of electricity generation in the United States. Wind and solar energy costs fell, and utilities across the country, even in red States, invested heavily. The renewable energy industry in America hit 3.3 million jobs—more than all fossil fuel jobs combined. The private sector is leading renewables purchases. One example is AT&T. AT&T recently signed onto the World Wildlife Fund’s Corporate Renewable Energy Buyers’ Principles, a criteria to help energy producers meet the needs of large customers like AT&T. As part of that commitment with the World Wildlife Fund, AT&T has signed two agreements with NextEra Energy for wind power—220 megawatts from an Oklahoma wind farm and 300 megawatts from a Texas wind farm. It is one of the largest corporate renewable energy purchases in history. I congratulate my Texas and Oklahoma colleagues for these new, home-State, renewable energy jobs, and I congratulate AT&T for its foresight and leadership.

Another business breakthrough came when the massive asset manager BlackRock helped break Exxon’s and Occidental Petroleum’s resistance and forced through shareholder resolutions requiring those oil producers to report their climate risk to their shareholders, to their investors. I, for one, don’t think those shareholders are yet getting the full story.

The multinational insurance firm, AXA, announced that it would divest from its tar sands holdings and it would stop providing insurance for pipelines that transport tar sands oil.

Credit rating agency Moody’s announced that it will consider climate risk in rating coastal communities’ municipal bonds. So our coastal municipalities in Rhode Island, the Presiding Officer’s coastal communities in Florida, and coastal communities across the country are now going to have to take into account the climate risk, what infrastructure and what hazards they face from sea level rise and increased storm activity, and all of the things we associate with climate change. It is going to be part of how the rating agencies value their municipal bonds. That is going to change behavior, and it doesn’t matter whether you are a red State or a blue State.

Companies like Microsoft and Unilever have baked into their own internal accounting their own internal carbon prices to help them reduce the carbon intensity of their operations. And, of course, virtually every Republican who has thought the climate change problem through to a solution has come to a price on carbon as being the market-based solution to that problem.

When the President announced that he would withdraw the United States from the historic Paris Agreement, leaving us as the pariah nation—the only one in the world to reject this global pledge—many American companies pledged that, as to that Paris Agreement, they are still in.

The corruption of the Trump administration by fossil fuel interests has not affected many State and local officials. In Colorado, for instance, the Colorado State Public Utility Commission is working with Xcel Energy to build out a cleaner energy mix and retire older fossil fuel units. Specifically, Colorado is looking to retire 660 megawatts of coal-fired generation— close it down—and replace it with renewables. Their recent request for bids brought a flood of new renewable energy proposals at costs that came in beating out existing coal and natural gas facilities. New-built renewables on price beat out existing fossil fuel. The market is speaking, and it is saying that fossil fuel, even with all its scandalous and well-defended subsidies, can’t compete. Fossil can’t compete.

On the Paris Agreement, California, Connecticut, Hawaii, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Virginia, Washington State and—I am proud to say—Rhode Island all declared that they, too, are still in. They will meet their goals. Alaska announced that it would meet its Paris Agreement goals. What is more, California and Washington State have combined with Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Mexico in a plan to put a price on carbon that would reach up and down virtually the entire Pacific coast of the Americas— from Canada all the way down through Chile.

One problem for the fossil fuel folks’ political influence, which is so deadly effective here in Congress, is that it doesn’t do so well in government agencies where the rule of law, not politics, prevails. So the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, a Federal administrative agency bound by rule of law, more or less blew off a preposterous proposal by fossil fuel flunkies at the Department of Energy to subsidize coal even more. Instead, FERC recently finalized a rule for energy storage in America’s electric grids. This will not only expand energy storage, but it will also accelerate renewables like wind and solar. A recent study predicted that the rule could spur—hold on— 50,000 megawatts of additional energy storage across the United States, enough to power roughly 35 million homes. This estimate could turn out to be conservative, if renewables prices keep heading in their current trajectories. That FERC rule, by the way, was unanimous and bipartisan.

FERC oversees the system operators, like ISO-New England, which are steadily improving the role of renewables in regional markets, removing the obstacles that had kept renewables from competing fairly in capacity auctions and dispatch decisions. With wind power being such a large part of Iowa’s energy mix, for example, its midwestern ISO figured out the algorithms to treat wind as reliable, baseload power. FERC’s storage rule will give these system operators a new avenue for further progress on clean, renewable energy.

Believe it or not, even Congress has acted. Just last month, Congress passed a bipartisan budget agreement that included legislation I cosponsored with Senators HEITKAMP, CAPITO, and BARRASSO to spur investment and innovation in next-generation carbon capture, utilization, and storage technologies. Our bill attracted what I would call an unlikely coalition of energy, industrial, agricultural, and technology companies, as well as environment and labor groups.

This bill puts a positive price on carbon reduction through a tax credit for projects that capture and utilize or store carbon dioxide emissions. Without that price signal, there was little incentive to innovate how to turn carbon pollution from powerplants and industrial facilities into something safe or even useful. The bill even incents technologies to pull carbon pollution directly from the atmosphere. The key is that Congress, for the first time, put a dollar value on reducing carbon pollution.

The Senate also just passed a nuclear innovation bill written by Senator CRAPO and me to increase collaboration between private industry, universities, and national laboratories in advanced nuclear technologies. Our bill was also cosponsored by Senators BOOKER, MURKOWSKI, RISCH, HATCH, and DURBIN. It would put private innovators together with our National Labs, with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, and with the Energy Department—all working together on safe, new nuclear technologies.

My goal here is not only to help bring new carbon-free technologies forward, ultimately to a carbon-free power grid, but also to explore technologies that just may allow us to turn our present hazardous nuclear waste stockpiles to productive use—to generate clean energy, to move those waste stockpiles from the liability to the asset column on our Nation’s books. What an achievement that would be.

Although Congress may be blockaded still by fossil fuel interests, it is nevertheless the law of the land that administrative agencies must take into account the social cost of carbon—the cost that fossil fuels carbon pollution imposes on society—in making energyrelated decisions. That test will remain, and lawsuits are slowly closing in on the moment of discovery, when lawyers finally get access to the fossil fuel industry’s files, and decades of lies, denial, and political manipulation are exposed for all to see.

The well-funded climate denial machine, with its front groups and trickpony scientists and political muscle operation, can only keep the denial castle propped up for so long. But until that battlement of lies collapses—and it will—until it collapses, nevertheless, progress still continues all around us.

Thank you, Mr. President.

I yield the floor.