September 9, 2014

Time to Wake Up: Republicans Side with Polluters over the Public on Climate

As delivered on the Senate floor

The 113th Congress is now winding down; an election is upon us that will decide the makeup of the next Congress; and I’m here for the seventy-seventh time to say that it is time for my Republican colleagues to wake up to the threat of climate change—both for the good of our world and, ultimately, for the good of their own party. 

No political party can long remain a credible force in our democracy if their position on one of the defining threats of their time is to deny its existence, or to plead total ignorance about it.  “I’m not a scientist,” some have begun to say.  When it comes to interfering with women’s rights, they don’t say “I’m not a gynecologist.”  But where it’s carbon pollution then, it’s “I’m not a scientist.”  (Some would say, if you’re not a scientist, all the more reason to listen to the scientists.) And, look at what the scientists are saying, just today. The World Meteorological Organization, which knows a little bit about this area. The top person at the World Meteorological Organization just said “we know without any doubt that our climate is changing and that our weather is becoming more extreme due to human activities, such as the burning of fossil fuels. We know, without any doubt.”

But let’s face it; “I’m not a scientist” is not the stance of a party that is ready to lead.  It’s the stance of a party that is beholden to polluting interests, petrified of losing the millions in polluter campaign spending supporting their candidates.

We have heard over and over again during the last six years that Republicans want President Obama to lead.  It’s a familiar chorus: “It’s time to lead!”  “Where’s the leadership?”  “Why isn’t America leading?”  One of my Republican Senate colleagues put it this way:

“Every American can agree that the light of peace and liberty would benefit our world.  But who will spread it if not America?  There is no other nation that can.  And that is why, despite the challenges we face here at home, America must continue to hold this torch.  America must continue to lead the way.”

Well, on climate change, we are — finally — leading the way, thanks in large part to President Obama’s Climate Action Plan and Secretary Kerry’s passionate efforts.  And they criticize the Obama Administration’s leadership on climate change, because other countries like China and India are also big carbon emitters.

So Republicans want America to lead, except on climate change.  On this one issue, they’d prefer to await leadership from China and India.  How convenient that is, when you think of all the polluter money funding the Republicans. 

And how badly out of step with America.  Just look at the numbers:

A recent Wall Street Journal poll showed, notwithstanding years of relentless polluter propaganda, 61 percent of Americans agree that climate change is occurring and that action should be taken, and 67 percent of Americans support the Administration’s proposed rule to limit carbon pollution from power plants.  And here’s my personal favorite: A survey conducted for the League of Conservation Voters found that more than half of young Republican voters—to be specific, 53 percent of Republicans under the age of thirty-five—would describe a politician who denies climate change is happening as, and I quote, “ignorant,” “out-of-touch,” or “crazy.” That’s the young Republican view of the Republican position on climate change.

On September 21, thousands of concerned Americans will converge on New York City for what will be known as the People’s Climate March.  Organizers expect as many as a half million people will take part in this historic citizen action to call attention to the global crisis of climate change.  

However, you look at it, the American people are sending a message, loud and clear.  They want responsible leadership on carbon pollution. What is the Republican answer? 

Well look at the House. Given control of the House, Republicans over there have already forced over 100 votes to undermine EPA. That’s even more than they have voted to repeal Obamacare! 

Paul Ryan, the Republican Chairman of the House Budget Committee, said last week that Republican strategy next year will be to send the President bills they know he will veto, including approval of the Keystone XL tar sands crude pipeline and thereby create shutdown by veto. 

Over here in the Senate, our Republican Leader already threatens, if the Republicans win the Senate, to force on to key legislation what he called, and I’ll quote,“a lot of restrictions on the activities of the bureaucracy.”  Gee, what agency could he possibly mean?  The threat is plain:  give the Republicans polluter-backed, anti-environment legislation —or they’ll shut down the government.  Again.   This is the Republican version of leadership. 

What about on the campaign trail?  Republicans in Congress ignore the public’s call for climate action, but are Republican candidates listening to the people, or are they listening to the polluters, led by the infamous Koch Brothers?  Look at how much money the polluters are spending on Republicans, and take a wild guess.   News flash—they’re not listening to the people.

The Republican nominee for Senate in Iowa has said of climate change: “I’m skeptical, it’s been changing since the dawn of time, I’m not going to blame it . . . on the human race.”

In New Hampshire, the leading Republican Senate candidate recently said he does not believe man-made climate change has been scientifically proven.  (Never mind that the underlying science was first measured back when Abraham Lincoln was President.)

In North Carolina, the Republican nominee has referred to climate change as “false science.”

Well, Madam President, in the last year I visited Iowa, and New Hampshire, and North Carolina, and I saw firsthand how climate change is already affecting those states.   I heard over and over again deep concern over climate change.  I heard about cold-weather sports and tourism threatened by warming temperatures in New Hampshire; I heard about crops threatened by shifting weather patterns, and about how a booming wind power industry has emerged in Iowa; I heard in North Carolina about homes, and businesses, even air bases, threatened by rising seas. 

If you doubt me, go to the state universities in Iowa and New Hampshire and North Carolina.  They’re not denying.  They are actively working on climate change and warning about climate change.  Iowa State has an entire climate science program and wants to be “a leader in the science of regional climate change”; University of New Hampshire scientists told me about the danger to New Hampshire’s iconic moose from tick infestations because of climate change; researchers from the University of North Carolina, Duke University and NC State took me out on a research vessel to see firsthand the effects of climate change on the North Carolina shoreline.  The home state universities are clear; it’s just the polluter-funded candidates who are denying.

It’s the same story across the country.  Republicans running for the Senate, from Alaska to Georgia, from Colorado to West Virginia, question or outright deny the established climate science.   Figure it out, do the math.  There is overwhelming consensus among knowledgeable scientists that climate change is real and is being caused by humans.  Denying that fact serves the economic interests of a narrow group of big-spending polluters.  And, the polluters are spending vast fortunes to support climate deniers.   Senate Republican candidates even attended a secret retreat organized by the Koch Brothers earlier this year and praised the Kochs’ political network for helping to support their campaigns. The polluter political lifeline to the Republican party.

A lot of blame here attaches to the Republicans’ confederates on the Supreme Court, the five Republican-appointed judges who kicked open the floodgates of corporate special interest spending for Republicans, in the disastrous Citizens United decision of January 2010. 

[Koch Brothers’ Political Machine]

With Citizens United in their pocket, the polluters went right to work.  By the 2012 election cycle, the Washington Post and Center for Responsive Politics determined, a donor network organized by the Koch Brothers spent $400 million to influence that election.  This graphic shows the complex apparatus that the Koch brothers used to pull those political strings. 

In the 2014 election cycle, government accountability group Common Cause has tallied over $34 million in political donations already from thirty of the country’s largest oil, gas, coal, and utility corporations.  That does not include the dark money that fossil fuel corporations have given to political groups which do not disclose their donors, groups such as the American Petroleum Institute, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Koch Brothers’ own so-called Americans for Prosperity organization, or the secretive identity-laundering machine known as the Donors Trust.  We don’t know how much these groups have actually raised or spent on election activities.  But the Koch network is expected to spend nearly $300 million on the 2014 midterm elections. 

The Center for Public Integrity reported last week that the Koch brothers are sponsoring 10 percent of all ads in competitive Senate races.  That’s more than 43,900 Senate ads between January 2013 and last month.  Americans for Prosperity alone, that Koch brothers organization, sponsored 27,000 ads.  That’s one in every sixteen ads in all Senate races this cycle.  And, of course, those polluter-funded ads make up way more than 10 percent of just the Republican ads. Why is that? Because, the focus is on Republicans, on buying and coopting the Republican Party as the polluters’ political instrument.

[Heartbeat carbon graphic]

The numbers are staggering.  And let’s be clear:  their intention is not to add to constructive debate on carbon pollution and climate change.  The polluters are determined to silence meaningful debate on the catastrophic effects of their carbon pollution.  And, it’s working. There was a lot of Republican activity on climate change until January 2010, when Citizens United was brought down. And, after that, you can’t find carbon pollution activity on the Republican side. They have been buried in the threats and promises of that polluter funding.

Well, Climate denial may work for Republicans in the short run, if it keeps wide open the spigots of polluter money that are funding Republican candidates.  We’ll see how that works out.  But no matter how much money the polluters pour into the Republican Party, even a Republican Senate cannot repeal the laws of science—not of physics, not of chemistry, not of oceanography.  

If they win the Senate, it’s not just going to be time for them to wake up, it’s going to be time for them to grow up.  Being in the majority means responsibility, not just obstruction and mischief.   Being in the majority means answering your country and the world, not just your polluter funding base.   Being in the majority means hearing the vast majority of Americans who want U.S. leadership on climate change, not telling voters the problem doesn’t exist, or that America should abdicate any responsibility for forging an international solution.

Our Republican colleagues will discover, if they don’t know it already, and many do know it already,  that former Senator and Secretary of State Hilary Clinton was right when she called climate change recently the, I’ll quote, the “most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and world.”   Secretary Clinton went on to say:  “The data is unforgiving no matter what the deniers try to assert. . . . If we come together to make the hard choices, the smart investment in infrastructure, technology and environmental protection, America can be the clean energy superpower of the twenty-first century. . . . This is about our strategic position in the world, this is about our competitiveness, our job creation, our economic growth as well as dealing with a challenge that we ignore at our detriment and our peril.”

So the choice for Republicans stands before them:  America as a clean-energy superpower, leading the world?  Or America bedeviled with polluter-fueled political gridlock and climate denial? 

Their choice so far is obvious. 

I yield the floor.