June 9, 2017

Time to Wake Up: May Day Parade

Mr. President, Donald Trump has decided to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change. This is a decision that may prove to be one of the worst foreign policy blunders in our Nation’s history.

There is no denying the mounting threat of climate change. We observe rising seas, warming global temperatures, and melting glaciers and ice sheets. Yet the President cast aside a historic global agreement forged through American leadership.

Americans now ask what to do next. For individual citizens, my answer is simple: Take action. Join an environmental group. Support science and scientists. Organize in your community.

Many Americans have been publicly pledging to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement through movements like the “I am still in” pledge. Every action, big and small, counts.

American corporations must also act. Unfortunately, they have been AWOL in the politics of climate change. This has been so frustrating because so many of them have great climate principles. They just abandon them when they come to Washington. That is why, for my 169th “Time to Wake Up” speech, I have a message for corporate America:

First, know that you are hugely influential in Congress. You command extraordinary attention in our political system. This gives you a unique power against the Breitbart fake-news spigot, the shameless fossil fuel industry, and the Koch brothers’ climate denial operation, which were all behind the President’s fateful decision.

President Trump’s brain-dead withdrawal from the Paris accord may prove to be for the best if it creates heightened political interest in climate action from American business leaders. At the moment, corporate political interests in climate action, setting the fossil fuel industry aside entirely, still averages out below zero.

As a Senator, I see corporate America’s lobbying efforts in Congress firsthand. Here are some highlights:

Silicon Valley lobbies through an organization called TechNet. TechNet represents Goliaths, like Microsoft, Apple, Google, and Facebook, all of which have great climate policies. TechNet also represents clean energy companies, like Sunrun, Bloom Energy, and SolarCity.

TechNet came again this year to lobby Congress on its six priorities. Here is a page from the actual lobbying materials that TechNet brought to our meeting. The group’s Federal policies are these: tax reform, high-skilled immigration reform, education and workforce development, entrepreneurship and job creation, smart infrastructure, and digital trade. Climate change did not make it onto TechNet’s priorities list. Even clean energy failed to make it onto the list of the organization that includes Bloom Energy, SolarCity, and Sunrun.

This is not a matter of these giants being cowed by the Trump administration. TechNet came last year when Obama was President, and climate change was not on their agenda then, either. Indeed, the week TechNet came last year, I also had a visit from the timber and lumber industry. Despite what climate change is doing to America’s forests, climate change was not on the lumber and timber industry agenda.

That very same week, the property casualty insurance industry came to meet me. These insurance companies write the big checks when climate change sends Mother Nature haywire. Climate change was not mentioned by this industry, either. That was quite a week.

Big business lobbying on climate change is actually worse than zero because the big business trade associations and lobbying groups are often run by the fossil fuel industry. Green energy manufacturers, represented in Washington, DC, by the National Association of Manufacturers, will find their own association lined up against them on climate change. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is one of climate action’s most implacable enemies, despite the good climate policies of so many companies on its board.

These lobby groups are the most persistent voices of America’s business community here in Congress. They are the ones who are most active, and they are constant enemies on clean energy and climate action–despite the companies they represent–because, in truth, they answer to the fossil fuel industry, not the business community, when it comes to climate change.

Here is how this can play out. Coca-Cola and PepsiCo are the two biggest beverage companies in America. Both have excellent climate policies. Pepsi even supports Ceres, a fledgling business lobbying group for climate action, but their trade association, the American Beverage Association, takes no lobbying interest in climate change. It knows how to lobby. We can see the lobbying expenditures run up in 2009 and 2010, when they were concerned about Congress’s taxing sweetened drinks or corn syrup. It just takes no interest in climate issues.

Worse, Coke and Pepsi run money through the American Beverage Association to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Add their lobbying all up, and Coke and Pepsi do virtually nothing themselves. A few ounces of credit go to Pepsi for supporting Ceres. Their American Beverage Association trade group doesn’t lift a finger to help, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is a brute force adversary.

The result is that the net lobbying presence of Coke and Pepsi in Congress on climate change is exactly opposed to the two companies’ stated policies on climate change. They say one thing; their lobbying effort does the opposite.

On the other side of the fossil fuel divide, the heavy political hand of the fossil fuel industry is felt constantly around here, and that heavy hand is mercilessly opposed to any climate action and enforces its will with a parade of political weaponry akin to those old Soviet May Day parades of tanks, rockets, and artillery. Cross them, and they come after you hard. Ask former Congressman Bob Inglis. He urged his fellow Republicans to heed the climate science and was hammered for it.

Also, no one should buy the phony assertions by Big Oil CEOs that they recognize that climate change is real and support putting a price on carbon. They say that. ExxonMobil’s CEO said that to his shareholders again just last week.

In the Senate, I am the Senate author of a carbon price bill. I know who is lobbying where on carbon prices, and I can tell you their statement is just not true. Every single element of that Soviet May Day parade of fossil fuel political weaponry is dead set against any such thing. What do we conclude from that? Either Big Oil’s CEOs don’t know what their own lobbying apparatus is doing, or they are just not telling the truth. You guess which.

The strategy of the fossil fuel industry has been to control the Republican Party. You can jam things up by jamming up one party, and you can make it look like it is a partisan issue when it is just old-fashioned, self-interested lobbying. In order to accomplish that purpose, the worst of the political threats and blandishments of the fossil fuel industry are directed against Republicans.

As long as legitimate corporate leaders in America sit idly by while fossil fuel terrorizes and corrupts the Republican Party, there will not be much progress. “But, oh,” some will say, “there aren’t Republicans who will respond. This is too partisan an issue. It will be a wasted effort.” Not so. I came to the Senate in 2007, and for years there was bipartisan action on climate change–2007, 2008, 2009.

It only stopped when the fossil fuel industry secured from five Republican-appointed Justices on the Supreme Court the disgraceful Citizens United decision of 2010. In 2007, lots of bipartisan activity; 2008, lots of bipartisan activity; 2009, lots of bipartisan activity; 2010, Citizens United–dead stop. That Citizens United decision is what started the fossil fuel Soviet May Day parade of unprecedented political artillery. No special interest had that kind of political artillery before Citizens United opened it up, and much of the post-Citizens United effort has been using dark money to hide the fossil fuel industry’s hand.

Since Citizens United, there has been no bipartisan climate action, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still Republicans willing to work with us. I know this firsthand. There are Republicans willing to work with us. They just need to know somebody will give them safe passage through the political kill zone that Citizens United has let the fossil fuel industry create. Well, with the Trump administration now all the way over in the “fossil fuel, Breitbart, Koch brothers climate denial corner,” it now rests on the shoulders of the legitimate business community to come off the sidelines. They can’t count on this administration. They now have to come off the sidelines themselves and do so in strength commensurate with the seriousness of the problem.

If, as a country, we pitch ourselves and the world into the present worst-case climate change scenarios, billions of people will suffer, and suffering people want answers and justice. It will become hard to defend to them our American system of democratic government against charges of corruption and our system of market capitalism against charges of indifference. Government has been corrupted by fossil fuel interests, and too many companies are indifferent. You can’t make a case without the facts to back it up, and American companies, more than anyone else, benefit from a world order where liberal democracies prevail. So the stakes for the American business community are very real.

The political mischief of the fossil fuel industry and its front groups will leave a lasting stain on the democracy we all treasure. It is time, in the wake of the President’s decision on Paris–isolating America with Syria as our companion in isolation–it is time that the decent and honorable business community played a meaningful role in setting this right. To them, I say: Trump has betrayed you so now is the time to align your industry’s political engagement with your industry’s position on climate. That is not asking much. We are only asking that American corporations align their political engagement on climate change with their actual position on climate change. If you take climate change seriously, great. Take it seriously when you come to Congress. The United States of America, where 1 day after D-day–a day when Americans stormed ashore to free the continent of Europe, fought their way through to knock down Nazi tyranny, and then rebuilt Europe under the Marshall Plan and came home–that country ought not to be a pariah nation with Syria.

We needn’t be a banana republic for fossil fuel. We can lead the world into a brighter, cleaner, safer energy future, but it will take an effort. So, corporate America, let’s make the effort.

I yield the floor.