April 11, 2017

Time to Wake Up: President Trump’s Climate Executive Order and Polling

Mr. President, this is my 163rd “Time to Wake Up” speech. I persist in the hope that one day these little water drops will ultimately cut through the stone of fossil fuel intransigence. Last week our new President, Donald Trump, announced an Executive order aiming to wipe out many of his predecessors’ climate change measures. So I would like to take some time this evening to examine his Executive order–which is, in many respects, a sham–and show how very far away it is from the actual wishes of the American people.

So to set the scene, exactly as the big polluters wanted, the Trump executive order purports to roll back climate protections. It seeks to change rules for how industry controls methane leaks from natural gas extraction and to lift a ban on new coal leases on our Federal lands. It signals an effort to unwind the Clean Power Plan, which has helped put us on track to sharply reduce carbon emissions over the next decade. Typical for this insider-friendly administration, it is a polluter’s wish list, but terrible for the American people–sad, as the President would say.

President Trump promises that this will revitalize the coal industry, but it won’t. Appalachian coal is being crushed in the market by Wyoming coal, and cheap natural gas is crushing both Appalachian coal and Wyoming coal, and ever-cheaper renewables are catching up on them all. So like so much of what this Oval Office does, this was political theatrics, not real policy.

The Clean Power Plan is going nowhere because America is not, despite Trump’s best efforts, a banana republic. The administrative agencies that Trump directed to stop taking action on climate change are actually obliged to follow the law, and they will be held to the law. Under the Administrative Procedures Act, these agencies have to follow real facts, not conjure up “alternative facts” from the fever swamp of the Breitbart imagination. Their record and their decisions will be reviewed by courts–not “so-called” courts, real courts. Administrative agencies cannot make decisions that are, to use the standard of administrative law, arbitrary and capricious. This is an Oval Office that lives by being “arbitrary and capricious,” but administrative agencies cannot be, or their work will be thrown out in court.

The question of carbon dioxide as a pollutant has been settled by the U.S. Supreme Court. Even Administrator Pruitt seems to recognize the folly of trying to undo the EPA carbon dioxide endangerment finding. So we have, as a matter of law, a dangerous pollutant, and under the law, it must be regulated. So this performance of the Trump Show is a waste of time because ultimately lawyers and courts will give the law–the law–the final say.

Courts are actually pretty good places for addressing climate change. It is very hard for the lies that are at the heart of climate denial to withstand judicial scrutiny. Smelly conflicts of interest can be exposed, and administrators with those smelly conflicts can be removed or recused. Judges aren’t supposed to be influenced by campaign contributions or political threats. The law, and real facts, not alternative facts, prevail.

In litigation like the cases in New York and Oregon, the fossil fuel industry will face discovery, testimony, and cross-examination. Lawyers and courts will ultimately force things back on track.

In the meantime, this Trump show makes losers of the American people. The Clean Power Plan is a reasonable approach to confronting our carbon problem. It gives States flexibility, and it would save American families $85 a year on energy costs once fully implemented. Good luck making a better plan.

I represent Rhode Island, a downwind State prone to air pollution from out-of-state smokestacks. We are also a coastal State, where rising seas driven by climate change threaten our coastal towns. I am sure the Presiding Officer can sympathize with the risk to coastal communities as the sea levels rise.

Just this past week, our Providence Journal had a story that said there are seven water treatment plants that are in danger of inundation in a 100-year storm, which, of course, is becoming more and more likely each year. So for Rhode Island, reducing carbon pollution and other greenhouse gases is part of preserving the map of the State we love and protecting the health of our people.

We need EPA, because our state environmental agency can’t regulate out-of-state pollution. That brings me to the man standing next to the President as he signed this order, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. He is a man who built his career raising money from the industry, and for years lent his badge of office to the industry-enabled legal assault on the Clean Power Plan. As you might imagine, he beamed as President Trump passed him the pen used to sign the Executive order.

Years ago, in Central and South America, fruit company puppets ruled banana republics. They wore ostentatious uniforms and enjoyed the trappings of power, but it was the fruit company backers who really called the shots. That is why banana republics are called banana republics. The fossil fuel industry is well on its way to try to turn America into a banana republic, but it won’t work. It is a stain upon the Senate that Pruitt actually got through the Senate without ever having to disclose who funded his political dark money operation. That is a first. That is a first. The Republican majority would not have those questions answered because they were so eager to shove this fossil fuel operative into the Administrator’s seat at EPA. Inconvenient questions like that wouldn’t get answered in banana republics, either.

While fossil fuel interests have been calling the shots in Washington, the American people have been of an entirely different mind. Let me show several polls that have come out over the past few weeks documenting public concern about climate change.

The Gallup poll shown here found that 71 percent of the American people believe climate change is happening–71 percent. Seventy-one percent trust scientists that, in fact, climate change is happening; 68 percent believe that global warming is caused by human activities; 62 percent believe we are already feeling the effects of climate change in our lives; and 45 percent worry a great deal–worry a great deal–about global warming.

A recent poll indicates that climate change is the top worry for 66 percent of Democrats.

Yale’s program on Climate Change Communication recently launched an extensive interactive map. It was featured recently in the New York Times. It shows that Americans all over the country overwhelmingly believe that climate change is real and support a variety of actions to address it.

So let’s start with what Americans believe. Seventy percent believe that global warming is happening, and 53 percent believe it is caused mostly by human activities. Most scientists think that global warming is happening–that is a near majority–and 71 percent trust scientists about global warming. That, by the way, compares to 9 percent of the Republican Senate caucus when we called a vote on the issue last Congress. So if we are looking for who is out of step here, it is the Republican Senate caucus that is very out of step with the public.

And when you go on to solutions, 82 percent of Americans want research into renewable energy sources; 75 percent want to regulate CO2 as a pollutant; and 69 percent want to set strict CO2 limits on existing coal-fired power plants.

Actually, the Clean Power Plan was a good deal softer than strict CO2 limits, and even then, 69 percent of Americans support it, and 66 percent of Americans support requiring utilities to produce 20 percent of their electricity from renewable sources.

So my colleagues from Republican States might think this data is representative of people living in their districts, that this is being biased by concern from blue States. Well, here is a state-by-state look.

So these are all the States. The colors reflect the percentage of Americans who think that climate change is happening. The break point from blue to tan is the 50-percent break point. So in every single State in the Union, no matter how red, a majority of Americans understand that climate change is happening. How that 50 percent ends up being 9 percent on the Senate floor is a story that I have told in other speeches. But we will see that at 45 percent, it is just pale blue. There is not a bit of pale blue anywhere. The entire country is above 50 percent.

So the next item this allows us to look at is Americans who support funding for research into renewables. Now, the lowest color here is the kind of deep orange and that comes in at 75 percent. That is the lowest point of any State in wanting support funding for research into renewables–75 percent–and it goes all the way up into the 90s.

For renewable research in coal country, we see 82 percent support in Wyoming; 81 percent support in West Virginia; 79 percent support in Kentucky; and the same in the oil patch–79 percent of Texans support renewables. Despite this support, President Trump recently proposed massive cuts, showing once again that the Trump show is not the America show even in fossil fuel States.

The support for carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired plants is also widespread. In all 50 States–in all 435 red, blue, and purple congressional districts–there is majority support, every single place. So what did President Trump and the fossil fuel operative at EPA do in the face of this? Signed this silly Executive order purporting to undo the Clean Power Plan.

Yale’s map allows us to do some interesting stuff. It is interactive, so we can zoom in. Let’s take a quick zoom in Oklahoma, Administrator Pruitt’s home State.

As we can see, in every congressional district, a majority of Oklahomans believe climate change is happening, trust climate scientists about climate change, support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, and support setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired powerplants–even in Oklahoma.

So who is Scott Pruitt representing? Because he is certainly not representing any State in the country, any congressional district in the country, certainly not representing Oklahoma or any congressional district in Oklahoma.

Interestingly, not too long ago, President Trump and his children were on the same page as those majorities of Oklahomans and Americans.

I have shown this before: In 2009, Donald, Ivanka, Donald Junior, and Eric Trump supported meaningful and effective measures–in an ad in the New York Times to fight climate change—calling climate change “scientifically irrefutable” and warning that its consequences would be “catastrophic and irreversible.” So 7 years ago, the entire Trump family recognized that climate change was based on scientifically irrefutable evidence and had catastrophic irreversible consequences. Despite the popularity of getting something done on climate change in every single congressional district in the country, we do nothing. What is up with that, if not politics–fossil fuel industry politics? The most voracious special interest in American politics, the fossil fuel industry, has captured the Trump show, installed its flunkies at the EPA, and hopes to unwind environmental and public health safeguards that the public supports.

So I have to keep asking the fossil fuel guys: How do you think this ends? Are you delusional enough to believe that you can defeat real science and ignore both the laws of nature and the will of the American people?

It is bonkers. It is political power run amuck.

We have a chance to push back a little bit. Scientists will be marching in Washington, DC, and around the country on April 22 to reject the phony-baloney alternative facts of President Trump. Please join them wherever you can. The following weekend, people from around the country are coming to DC–April 29–for the People’s Climate March. I was in the People’s Climate March in September 2014 with more than 400,000 other concerned Americans, and it was a heartening and energizing experience. So mark your calendars for April 22 and for April 29, and come to DC or to the satellite marches being held around the country.

As these maps have shown, you are not alone in seeking climate action. Every single congressional district in the country wants climate action. It is only the death grip of the fossil fuel industry on this building that prevents that from happening.

So help make these the last days of denial by this dirty industry and its rightwing climate denial fanatics. As days and months slip by, we lose precious time to address both the harm to Mother Earth of climate change and the harm to America of being made ridiculous around the world by our obeisance to the fossil fuel industry. We are supposed to be the city on the hill, not fossil fuel’s banana republic. It is time for America to begin leading again on climate. It is time to wake up.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.