November 4, 2015

Time to Wake Up: GOP’s False Claims About the Clean Power Plan

Mr. President, I guess in the order proceeding here, I am here to bring the opposing views. Every week we are here, I remind this body of the damage carbon pollution is doing to our atmosphere and to our oceans. I have traveled to Senator Isakson’s State to see what the University of Georgia is measuring off of Sapelo Island, and I hope to have the chance to go west to continue this.

We have to wake up to climate change, and we have to move toward a clean-energy economy and the jobs and innovation that support it. Clear measurements exist of the harm that is already happening: climbing sea levels, we measure; climbing global temperatures, we measure; acidifying oceans, we measure.

Virtually every respected scientific and academic institution agrees that climate change is happening and that human activities–specifically carbon emissions–are driving it. Carbon pollution is affecting our economy, it is affecting agriculture and wildfires, and it is affecting storms and insurance costs.

There are so many people–doctors and health professionals, military and security leaders, insurance and reinsurance industry folks, our major utilities, American corporations, and our faith leaders all agree that climate change is a serious challenge and an important priority. Yet here, despite the growing chorus around the country calling for climate action, we hear congressional Republicans, such as the majority leader, claim they are here to stand up for our people by blocking the President’s Clean Power Plan.

As carbon pollution piles up in the atmosphere, who are they standing up for? Certainly not the American people. Eighty-three percent of Americans, including 6 in 10 Republicans, want action to reduce carbon emissions. The Clean Power Plan delivers.

For the first time, we have a national plan to reduce carbon pollution from the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions, which is powerplants. The 50 dirtiest coal plants in America together emit more carbon pollution than all of South Korea and more than all of Canada. Are we going to do nothing about that?

Too often we hear on the Republican side folks who trumpet these industry-backed, one-sided reports that point only to the cost of action. They don’t even measure or consider the cost of inaction. If you were an accountant and did the books that way, you would go to jail. Well, if you look at both sides of the ledger, the EPA shows that the projected health benefits of the Clean Power Plan will avoid 300,000 missed work and school days, 1,700 heart attacks, 90,000 asthma attacks, and 3,600 premature deaths every year. Every dollar invested through the Clean Power Plan will keep up to $4 in American families’ pockets. The savings are also passed on to electricity consumers, with the average American family projected to save almost $85 per year on their electric bill by 2030.

I am from New England. We have the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, RGGI, and it is proving that States grow their economies at the same time that they cut emissions. Putting a price on carbon and plowing that money back into clean energy products is saving us billions of dollars and helping to reduce carbon pollution.

The EPA put the States in the driver’s seat to come up with plans that suit them. An analysis from the Union of Concerned Scientists shows that “31 States are already on track to be more than halfway toward meeting their 2022 Clean Power Plan benchmarks.” These States include both cap-and-trade States, such as California and the Northeast RGGI States, and coal-heavy States, such as Ohio, and Kentucky.

“We can meet it,” says Kentucky energy and environment secretary Leonard Peters about the plan. “We can meet it.” In fact, Dr. Peters praised the EPA for working with States like Kentucky to build this rule. “The outreach they’ve done, I think, is incredible,” he said. The EPA had an “open door policy. You could call them, talk to them, meet with them.”

The Kentucky experience was echoed around the country, as EPA listens closely to hundreds of concerns, holds hundreds of public meetings, and the final rule includes significant adjustments to accommodate individual State’s concerns.

Even with all of this, the majority leader, the senior Senator from Kentucky , will brook no serious conversation about climate change. We just never have that come up as a subject. The Republican leader, in a modern, massive resistance effort, wrote to all 50 Governors urging defiance of Federal regulation, calling the regulations “extremely burdensome and costly.” That might have been a more credible allegation about the regulations if he had not reached it months before the regulations were even finalized.

The Clean Power Plan, says the majority leader, is the latest battle in a great “War on Coal.” He says, “[W]e have a depression in central Appalachia created because of the President’s zeal to have an impact worldwide on the issue of climate.” It seems that the head of one of his region’s biggest electric utilities doesn’t agree. Appalachian Power president and CEO Charles Patton told a meeting of energy executives last week that coal can no longer compete against cheaper alternatives such as natural gas and wind power. Coal, he said, will continue to decline with or without the Clean Power Plan. It has nothing to do with the President. “If we believe we can just change administrations and this issue is going to go away,” Patton said, “we’re making a terrible mistake.”

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the article titled “Coal not coming back, Appalachian Power president says” and editorial titled “Reality check on coal, future” be printed in the Record at the conclusion of my remarks.

It says:

With or without the Clean Power Plan, the economics of alternatives to fossil-based fuels are making end roads in the utility plan, companies are making decisions today where they are moving away from coal-fired generation. The debate largely at this time has been lost.

Mr. Patton is not alone. In September, financial giant Goldman Sachs released several bleak reports on the future of the global coal market. The latest report was in September, where they drew the conclusion that “[t]he industry does not require a new investment given the ability of existing assets to satisfy flat demand, so prices will remain under pressure as the deflationary cycle continues.” In plain English, market forces are driving coal’s decline.

I seriously doubt that any colleague would think Goldman Sachs is a bunch of liberal greenies who launched a war on coal. This is their clear economic thought.

Since the clean power rule was finalized in August, the massive resistance the majority leader sought has not ensued.

Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has so far not heeded the majority leader’s call to rebel. Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin, the first to publicly pledge to resist the President’s plan, recently hinted that Oklahoma would submit a compliance plan after all.Indeed, even while West Virginia leads the multistate lawsuit against EPA, Governor Earl Tomblin announced last week that his administration will begin working on a compliance plan.

In the heart of coal country, in Charleston, WV, the newspaper, Gazette-Mail, praised the Governor’s move, writing on its editorial page:

“It is the right thing to do–both to decrease emissions that contribute to human-caused climate change..”

Here is a newspaper in the heart of coal country conceding that emissions contribute to human-caused climate change, and I don’t know why we can’t get over that in the Senate-and as the governor says, to make sure West Virginia’s interests are best represented in how the plan is carried out.

They described Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell’s urge to rebel against the rule as petulant and foolish. That is from the heart of coal country.

The coal industry, like an aging ship at sea, is taking on water. Between the costs of old, dirty power plants and the competitive advantage of cheaper natural gas, coal is struggling to stay afloat. As Mr. Patton from Appalachian Power pointed out, those circumstances have nothing to do with whoever is sitting in the Oval office.

For States that have relied on coal for generations, the Clean Power Plan is actually a lifeboat. It is a chance to kick-start new industries and innovative technologies and to choose the path forward that is best for your State and your citizens. It is a way off a sinking ship.

Recognizing the costs of carbon pollution is another lifeboat. I know this sounds strange to my colleagues, but please bear with me. You can’t build the carbon capture plants that could keep coal plants operating if they are free to pollute. There is no economic value to a carbon capture plant if it is free to pollute. The truculent insistence on this market failure by Big Coal is ironically coal’s own undoing. Yet congressional Republicans won’t engage. They waste time with the useless Gingrich-era Congressional Review Act efforts to block carbon pollution controls on powerplants–controls that Americans overwhelmingly support.

Beyond that, our Republican friends simply have no plan–nothing. There is no plan B to the President’s Clean Power Plan. If you have something else, please bring it forward. We can debate which is better, but you can’t just pretend this isn’t a problem. They have no plan to deal with climate change, no plan to help coal-reliant communities find safe passage to a more sustainable economic future.

I ask my colleagues to please read what the CEO of Appalachian Power said. Please take it to heart. Please read the Charleston Gazette-Mail editorial.

Please engage with us while we can still do some good because when the market completely collapses, when there is nothing left to do, when coal is priced out by solar and wind and natural gas and other fuels, then it is too late to come back and say: Now we need help. When the market has acted and someone suffers as a result, they don’t get any sympathy in this building.

Now is the time when people who want to make this a smooth transition for coal economies need to come forward in the interests of their own people, in the interests of their own miners who need their pensions filled and fixed, in the interests of communities that need transitions, in the interests of their economy.

I thank the distinguished Senator from Georgia for his patience.

I yield the floor.