October 6, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Global Food Companies Unite On Climate Action

Mr. President, Americans across the board recognize the growing threat of global climate change. Last week was a big week on the conservative and corporate sides. New polling revealed strong support among conservatives for smart policies to stem carbon pollution. Coalitions of leading corporate voices–6 major banks and 10 major food and beverage companies–called on us to join them in backing strong climate action. I come to the floor today, now for the 114th time, to join with them–with scientists and lay people, with military commanders and faith leaders, with environmentalists and capitalists, with Democrats and Republicans, all saying it is time to wake up to this crisis.

Yes, I said “and Republicans.” Outside this Chamber, Republicans are calling for action on climate. The poll out last week, conducted by three leading Republican pollsters, showed a majority of Republican voters, including 54 percent of conservative Republicans, agreeing that the climate is changing and that human activity contributes to the changes we are all seeing.

They want solutions from us. The same proportion of conservative Republicans–54 percent–would favor a carbon pollution fee on electric utilities, provided the revenue would then be rebated to consumers.

As we know, a carbon fee is a market-based solution, very much in line with conservative principles. I recently introduced a bill that I hope both Republicans and Democrats can embrace.

It would establish an economy-wide carbon fee on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions and then return 100 percent of the money to the American people.

It would work. A recent analysis said it would reduce U.S. carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 50 percent by 2030.

The revenue would offset annual payroll taxes for every working person by $500, with a similar benefit to veterans and Social Security recipients. It would reduce the corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 29 percent. It would return the remaining funds to States to be used locally, for transition costs, efficiency investments or whatever the States prefer.

With this bill, I extend to conservatives what my very conservative friend, former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis, has called not just an olive branch but an olive limb. Whether you want tax reform, a proper free market for energy or even to address climate change, please, let’s get to work.

To state the obvious, Congress has been ruled by the lobbyists and political enforcers for the fossil fuel industry. The fossil fuel industry, with political threats and very big money and lots of phony front groups, has made the Republican Party in Congress its political wing.

But outside this Chamber, where conservatives don’t need fossil fuel industry money, there is considerable conservative support for a carbon fee, from leading right-of-center economists, conservative think tanks, and former Republican officials.

President Nixon’s Treasury Secretary, George Shultz; President Reagan’s economic adviser, Art Laffer; President George W. Bush’s Treasury Secretary, Hank Paulson; and Bush Council of Economic Advisers Chair, Greg Mankiw, have all advocated for some form of a carbon fee as the efficient way to correct a market failure–the market failure where we all have to pick up the costs of carbon pollution for the fossil fuel industry. No wonder they spend so much money around here. That market failure is a sweet deal for the fossil fuel fellas, but it is not good free market economics.

In a 2013 New York Times op-ed, former Republican EPA Administrators Bill Ruckelshaus, Christine Todd Whitman, Lee Thomas, and William Reilly wrote: “A market-based approach, like a carbon tax, would be the best path to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.”

Republicans in Congress are being squeezed. On one side they see unequivocal scientific consensus, compelling economic theory, and mounting public opinion–all pointing toward the need for strong action on climate.

On the other side, they see rich and powerful polluters who fund their politics and who make heavy-handed threats against any Republicans who might dare to cross them.

That is why it was such glad news when a group of 11 House Republicans, led by Congressman Chris Gibson of New York, introduced a House resolution committing to address climate change by promoting ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism.

That is not a bill yet. We have a ways to go still. But it is another sign that the “denier castle” is crumbling. First, climate change was a hoax. Then, OK, maybe it is not a hoax, but it is natural variation. Then, OK, maybe it is real and humans do cause some of it. But, look, it paused. Then, OK, maybe it didn’t pause. But we really can’t do anything about it. And then, OK, we can do something about climate change, but please stop asking me about it because I am not a scientist.

And now this: A resolution by sitting Republican House Members that we need to take climate action. It has been quite a journey.

The escape of 11 Republicans from the dark, crumbling ramparts of denier castle gives dawning hope to Americans that bipartisan action on climate change is becoming possible, even in Congress.

Last Thursday, Congressman Gibson and I joined together, bicameral and bipartisan, to hear from major food and beverage companies how climate change affects their industry, supply chains, and bottom line. It marked–as far as I can recall–the first time in years that a sitting Democrat and a sitting Republican Member of Congress joined in a public event on climate change. I hope that is another sign that things in this building have begun to shift.

For these big companies, climate change is not a partisan issue. It is not even a political issue. It is business. It is their reality.

“Climate really matters to our business,” Kim Nelson of General Mills told us. “We fundamentally rely on Mother Nature.” The choices we make to protect or forsake our climate, she said, will be “important to the long-term viability of our company and our industry.”

Paul Bakus of Nestle agreed, impressing on us that this is not a hypothetical. Climate change “is impacting our business today,” he said. His company, Nestle, cans pumpkins under the Libby’s brand. They have seen pumpkin yields crash in the United States. “We have never seen growing and harvesting conditions like this in the Midwest,” said Mr. Bakus.

Chief Sustainability Officer for Mars, Barry Parkin, was more blunt: “We are on a path to a dangerous place.”

These companies are reducing carbon emissions and demanding sustainable supply chains. Mars, for example, recently invested in a 211-megawatt wind power farm in Texas to offset all of the electricity used by its U.S. operations. Unilever, in addition to shifting away from fossil fuels toward renewables and biofuel energy, is also fighting deforestation associated with farming.

Message No. 1 from these businesses was: This is important.

Message No. 2 was: They can’t do it alone. They need us in government to pay attention. “Business, government, civil society, and individuals all have a part to play,” said General Mills.

“We need governments to be involved,” said Unilever.

Specifically, the companies want a strong global climate deal at the Paris conference this December. They released a joint letter pledging to accelerate their own climate efforts and urging governments to do their part as well. They even took out full-page ads in the Washington Post. Here it is.

They had the full text of their letter and the signatures of the 10 CEOs printed in the Financial Times on the very day of our event.

The heads of Mars, General Mills, Nestle USA, Unilever, Kellogg Company, New Belgium Brewing Company, Ben & Jerry’s, Cliff Bar, Stonyfield Farm, and Danone Dairy North America had the following statement in the letter:

Climate change is bad for farmers and agriculture. Drought, flooding, and hotter growing conditions threaten the world’s food supply and contribute to food insecurity.

They also pledged:

We will: Use our voices to advocate for governments to set clear, achievable, measurable and enforceable science-based targets for carbon emissions reductions.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that this letter from the heads of these 10 major food and beverage companies asking world leaders and the Congress to act on climate change be printed in the Record.

We heard a similar appeal from America’s largest financial powerhouses last week. Bank of America, Citi, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo released a strong call for governments to come together on a climate agreement.

Here is what they wrote:

Policy frameworks that recognize the costs of carbon are among the many important instruments needed to provide greater market certainty, accelerate investment, drive innovation in low carbon energy, and create jobs. ….. While we may compete in the marketplace, we are aligned on the importance of policies to address the climate challenge.

These are serious people running big, successful companies. They don’t take climate change lightly, they don’t scoff and neither should we. They are asking that elected officials find the courage to address climate change. Majorities of voters of both parties and of Independents are also asking elected representatives to find the courage to address climate change. That brings us back to that squeeze I talked about.

If you are not willing to address carbon pollution and the climate change and ocean acidification it is causing, I ask my colleagues who are on the ballot in 2016: What are you going to say? What are you going to say to your voters? Are you going to say it is a hoax? Great. Good luck with that.

Are you going to say: OK. It is real, it is important, these companies are all right, but as far as fixing it, well, we have nothing–because right now that is what they have, nothing.

Maybe they should just beg: “Please don’t ask me about climate change because the big fossil fuel polluters are paying my party’s bills and making mean threats to me.”

Those are not a great set of options.

At some point soon, I tell my friends: Your party’s leaders are going to have to go to the fossil fuel billionaires and say: “Enough. Enough. Let my people go. We held out for you as long as we could, but now you have to let my people go. And it has to be soon.”

As one executive told Congressman Gibson and me quite directly, “The window of opportunity to act on climate change is closing.”

It is time to wake up.

I yield the floor.