August 4, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Kentucky Senators on Climate Change: Duck, Deny, Disparage

Mr. President, this is actually the time of the week for me to deliver my 109th “Time to Wake Up” speech. I find it a little bit frustrating these days because climate change used to be a bipartisan issue. Over and over again, we had bipartisan, serious climate change bills. In fact, the first big climate change bill in the EPW Committee was Warner-Lieberman–John Warner, Republican of Virginia, and Joe Lieberman, Democrat of Connecticut. But then came Citizens United and all that dark money began to flow, all that fossil fuel money began to flow, all that Koch brothers money began to flow. Now, even as the evidence of climate change deepens to irrefutability, it is hard to find a Republican in Congress who will do anything. Here is the formula: Duck the question, deny the evidence, and disparage the scientists. Duck, deny, and disparage. That is some strategy for an issue which so many people take seriously.

As Congress sleepwalks through history, the warnings are painfully clear. Carbon pollution piles up in the atmosphere. Temperatures are rising. Weather worsens at the extremes. The oceans rise, warm, and acidify. These are all measurements. This isn’t theory. The measurements confirm what the science has always told us about dumping so much excess carbon into oceans and atmosphere.

So hurray for the President’s Clean Power Plan. For the first time, we have a national effort to reduce carbon pollution from power plants, which are the largest source of U.S. carbon emissions. This plan is big. This plan is good. And this plan is urgently needed. I congratulate the President, I congratulate Administrator McCarthy, and I congratulate the good and public-spirited people of the EPA and other Federal agencies who worked hard to listen and make this plan final.

Of course, we will still have the usual complaining from all of the usual suspects.

The Senate Majority Leader, the senior Senator from Kentucky, opposes any serious conversation about climate change. In fact, he is ready to lead his modern version of massive resistance against the Federal Clean Power Plan. The Republican leader has written to Governors urging defiance of the EPA regulations, calling them “extremely burdensome and costly,” which would be a more credible conclusion had he not reached it months before the regulations were even finalized.

Actually, if we want to get into the actual world here, a report just out from that famous liberal, Socialist bastion Georgia Tech found that the clean power rule could be enacted in a very cost-effective manner and could lower folks’ energy bills in the long term. But let’s not let the facts get in the way when there are fossil fuel interests to be placated.

As the Washington Post reported, folks expect to comply with the Clean Power Plan with relatively little effort, even in Kentucky. “We can meet it” is what Dr. Leonard Peters, Kentucky’s energy and environment secretary, has to say about the Clean Power Plan. “We can meet it.” In fact, Dr. Peters praised the EPA for working with States like his to build this rule. “The outreach they’ve done, I think, is incredible,” he said. 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 listened closely to the concerns of utilities, regulators, experts, and citizens. They have made big adjustments to accommodate the concerns of stakeholders in the States.

When the usual complaining comes from the usual suspects, please ask them: What is your plan? How would you do a better job of addressing the carbon emissions that are polluting our atmosphere and oceans? What is your alternative?

Spoiler alert: You will look far and wide before finding a Republican plan.

Don’t look here. Don’t look in the Senate. Republicans in the Senate have exactly zero legislation for addressing carbon pollution in any serious way. None. Zip. Nada. Duck, deny, and disparage is all they have.

Don’t look at their Presidential candidates. In recent weeks I have used these weekly climate speeches to look at Republican Presidential candidates’ views on climate change. It is pathetic. There is nothing. What are we up to–87 Republican Presidential candidates? And not one has a climate change plan. OK, I was exaggerating about the 87.

Florida: ground zero for sea level rise, two Republican Presidential candidates, and what do the two of them have? Nothing. Republican mayors from Florida, State universities in Florida, the Army Corps office in Florida–nothing gets through to the candidates. Duck, deny, disparage is all they have.

The Wisconsin Presidential candidate ignores his own home State university, his own State newspapers, and his own State scientists. But Governor Walker can actually top duck, deny, and disparage. His response to climate change? Use your budget to fire the scientists at the State environmental protection agency.

How about our Presidential candidate, the junior Senator from Kentucky? What do we hear from him? He has said that the EPA rules are illegal, and he has predicted that they will result in power shortages–no lights and no heat. But does he have an alternative he would prefer? No. He has nothing, and, like all the other got-nothing Republican Presidential candidates, he is out of step with his own home State.

Kentucky isn’t just easily able to comply with the Clean Power Plan; agencies and officials all across Kentucky are working seriously on climate change.

By the way, here is a look at why compliance is easy in Kentucky: Kentucky’s fuel mix, which this charts, is a wall of coal. As the song says, the Sun shines bright on my old Kentucky home, but good luck finding any solar in there. You will need a magnifying glass to find this tiny little green line at the top that is barely visible that is solar and wind combined. I mean, really? Iowa can get to 30 percent wind. Iowa has two Republican Senators. It is not impossible. In Kentucky, they haven’t even tried.

Kentucky’s cities-Lexington, Louisville, Frankfurt, Bowling Green, and Villa Hills-get it.

They have signed the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement in order to–quoting officials from Lexington–”act locally to reduce the impacts of climate change by lowering (manmade) greenhouse gas emissions.”

The hills of Kentucky are some distance from the shores of Rhode Island and the shores of New Hampshire as well. Living by the sea, I have to worry about climate change and what it is doing to our oceans and coasts. Kentucky is landlocked. So imagine my surprise to read the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources warning about sea level rise. I will quote them.

With the predicted increases in severity of hurricanes and tropical storms, coupled with potential shoreline losses in Florida and throughout the eastern seaboard, people may begin migrations inland. If and when these events occur, Kentucky may experience human population growth unprecedented to the Commonwealth.

So I say to our candidate from Kentucky, the junior Senator, and our majority leader, the senior Senator, with Kentucky, their home State, projecting that people on the coasts will be hit so hard by climate change that we may have to flee inland to landlocked Kentucky, I hope the Senators from Kentucky will understand my persistence on this issue when their own State thinks that my citizens might have to flee to Kentucky to get away from this threat.

Kentucky is renowned for its horses. So I turned to Horse & Rider magazine and found a great article on “how climate change might affect our horses’ health.” Horse & Rider’s expert was none other than Dr. Craig Carter of the University of Kentucky. He had specific concerns in the article for equine health, but he also offered us this general reminder:

It’s not just horses (and people) at risk: crops are being affected, as are trees, due to beetle infestations. Climate change affects all forms of life.

That is from Dr. Carter of the University of Kentucky.

Kentucky Woodlands Magazine reports that “the world is changing right before our eyes. ….. [O]ur natural systems are changing as a result of a warming climate.” The magazine even warns that “climate change is happening as you read this article.”

Meanwhile the Senators from Kentucky are not sure why that may be. The junior Senator has said that he is not sure anybody knows exactly why all of this climate change is happening. The majority leader invokes that climate denial classic: I am not a scientist.

Well, and I say this thankfully the scientists are here to help- including Kentucky scientists.

At Kentucky’s universities, the science seems pretty clear about exactly why all of this climate change is happening. Dr. Paul Vincelli is a professor at the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. He says:

In the scientific community, it is widely accepted that the global climate is changing and that human activities which produce greenhouse gases are a principal cause. Greenhouse gases have a strong capacity to trap heat in the lower atmosphere, even though they are present at trace concentrations.

Elsewhere, Professor Vincelli and his University of Kentucky colleagues write:

Scientific evidence that our global climate is warming is abundant. ….. Practicing scientists consider the evidence of human-induced global warming to be extremely strong.

The University of Kentucky is not the only place. Eastern Kentucky University offers concentrations in environmental sustainability and stewardship, including courses on global climate change.

Northern Kentucky University signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, pledging Northern Kentucky University to “an initiative in pursuit of climate neutrality.”

At the University of Louisville, Professor Keith Mountain is the chair of the department of geography and geosciences. He has lectured about “how climate change is a measurable reality and how people have contributed to the trends.”

Despite all of the experts in Kentucky saying that human-caused climate change is real, despite the harms that State and local officials foresee for Kentucky and the rest of the country, and despite the easy steps being taken in Kentucky to comply with the President’s Clean Power Plan, the Senators from Kentucky have no plan–nothing. They are part of the “duck, deny, and disparage” caucus.

And the Presidential candidates? There is almost nothing they won’t make up to try to jam a sick in the wheels of progress–imaginary wars on coal when it is really coal’s war on us, imaginary cost increases that have been completely debunked by actual experience, imaginary reliability failures when the real reliability problem is already happening around us thanks to climate-driven extreme weather. On and on they go. Yet they offer no alternative. Republicans simply have no plan other than a shrug.

Why do they have no climate plan? Why do they present nothing by way of limits to carbon pollution?

Here is a clue: Look where the money comes from. It comes from fossil fuel billionaires and fossil fuel interests. Look at the beauty pageant hosted this weekend by the Koch brothers in Dana Point, CA, where Republican Presidential candidates went to display their wares to the big donors.

Do you think the Koch brothers want to hear about climate change? Here is another clue: Americans for Prosperity, part of the Koch brothers’ big-money political organization, has openly warned that any client who crosses them on climate change will be “at a severe disadvantage”–subtle as a brick from an outfit threatening to spend part of the $889 million total that the Koch brothers have budgeted for this election. And yes, $889 million in one election is big money. “For that kind of money, you could buy yourself a president,” said Mark McKinnon, a Republican and former George W. Bush strategist and a good Texan. “Oh, right,” he continued, “that’s the point.”

Even the Donald called the Republicans out on this one, calling the Koch brothers’ California event a “beg-a-thon,” and saying: “I wish good luck to all of the Republican candidates that traveled to California to beg for money, etc., from the Koch Brothers.”

What a shame, to be a Presidential candidate willing to ignore your home State universities, ignore your home State newspapers, ignore your home State scientists–unless, of course, you are trying to fire them–ignore your own home State farmers, foresters, and fishermen, all so you can prance successfully at pageants for the big-money fossil fuel interests that today control the Republican party. Duck, deny, and disparage is what gets you through the beauty pageant. So duck, deny, and disparage it is.

Eventually, the Republican Party is going to have to come up with a plan on climate change. The American people are demanding it, Independent voters, whom they will need in 2016, are demanding it. Even Republican voters demand it, at least if they are young ones.

And it really matters that we get this right. It is the responsibility of the United States of America, as a great nation, to set an example for others to follow and not just sit back and wait for others to act. Failing to act on climate change would both dim the torch we hold up to the world and give other nations an excuse for delay. Failure, I contend, when the stakes are so high becomes an argument for our enemies against our very model of government. How do we explain the influence of this special interest interfering with what must be done? There will be no excuse when a reckoning comes to say, “I really needed the political support of those fossil fuel billionaires; so, sorry, world.”

President Abraham Lincoln, a native Kentuckian, warned us that “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present.” Before the present gets too stormy, I urge my colleagues from Kentucky to heed the experts in their home State, heed the local leaders in their home State, and wake up to what needs to be done.

I yield the floor.