April 14, 2016

Time to Wake Up: Saying One Thing and Doing Another

Mr. President, this is the 133rd climate speech that I have delivered, and it has been an amazing week. On Saturday, the New York Times posted its cover story about dying coral reefs in our oceans. On Sunday, the cover story in the Providence Journal was about drowning salt marshes in Rhode Island. Both are the handiwork of climate change. Even more amazing, listen to what a Koch brother’s operative said last week:

“Charles has said the climate is changing. So, the climate is changing.” That was Sheryl Corrigan speaking, of Koch Industries, the massive fuel conglomerate led by Charles and David Koch, and the Charles was Charles Koch. She went on: “I think he’s also said, and we believe that humans have a part in that.”

Climate change is real, it seems, and manmade if even they say so.

What this really means is that the denial shtick has collapsed entirely. We saw this coming with the oil and gas CEOs. In the run-up to the Paris climate summit, the chief executive officers of 10 of the world’s largest oil and gas companies declared their collective support for a strong international climate change agreement. “We are committed to playing our part,” they professed. “Over the coming years we will collectively strengthen our actions and investments to contribute to reducing the GHG intensity of the global energy mix.”

So if the oil and gas CEOs will not do it and now even the Koch brothers will not do it, it looks like denying climate change is no longer acceptable–even to those who most cause it.

As we know, Big Coal took another path, denying to the end, and for many players in the coal industry it really is the end. The industry is being devastated by market forces and is in precipitous decline. As I noted in my last climate speech, the Wall Street Journal reported that the “war on coal” was a war on coal by the natural gas industry, and the natural gas industry has won. Appalachian Power president and CEO Charles Patton told a meeting of energy executives last fall that coal was losing a long-term contest with natural gas and wind power.

Today we learned America’s largest coal company, Peabody Energy, filed for bankruptcy, as Arch Coal did in January. In recent years, one report found 26 U.S. coal companies have gone into bankruptcy. Some of the most notable bankruptcies include James River Coal and Patriot Coal Corporation, which had combined assets that totaled $4.6 billion. Denial was not a winning strategy for the coal industry.

If outright denial of manmade climate change is no longer a viable strategy, what is left? It is an old classic: Dissembling–saying one thing and doing another.

The polluters say climate change is real and they say that a carbon fee makes sense, but they put their entire massive lobbying and political operations to work to prevent Congress from actually acknowledging that climate change is real or from working on legislation to establish a carbon fee–even a carbon fee that would dramatically reduce the corporate income tax rate.

For example, USA Today reported this week that oil titan Chevron has pumped at least $1 million into the super PAC set up to keep the Senate in the hands of the climate denial party. I don’t know of a penny that Chevron has put into supporting climate action in Congress. Say one thing; do another.

A new report from the nonprofit research organization Influence Map shows that two other major oil companies, along with three of their industry trade groups, spend as much as $115 million a year to lobby against the very climate policies they publicly claim to support. Say one thing, do another.

This chart shows the streams of money from ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell–whose CEO, by the way, signed the oil-and-gas Paris declaration–as well as the American Petroleum Institute, the Western States Petroleum Association, and the Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association. That is Shell and that is Exxon.

This money deluge–total spent, $114 million–includes advertising and public relations, direct lobbying here in Congress and at State houses, and political contributions and electioneering. Don’t think any of this goes to support a solution to climate change.

What this chart doesn’t show is the dark money these corporate behemoths funnel through phony-baloney front groups, often untraceable, to undermine public understanding of the climate crisis and to undermine action in Congress. Front groups have been testifying this very week in the Environment and Public Works Committee against climate action. Was there any pushback from Charles Koch or from the oil CEOs? No. Nor does this chart show the undisclosed fossil fuel millions dumped into our elections thanks to the regrettable Citizens United Supreme Court decision.

Academic researchers like Robert Brulle at Drexel University, Riley Dunlap at Oklahoma State University, Justin Farrell at Yale University, and Michael Mann at Penn State University, among many others, have studied and are exposing the precise dimensions and functions of the corporate climate denial machine. It is quite a piece of machinery. Investigative writers like Naomi Oreskes, Erik Conway, Naomi Klein, and Steve Coll are also on the hunt.

Jane Mayer of the New Yorker has put out an important piece of legislation–her new, aptly titled book “Dark Money,” about the secret but massive influence-buying of rightwing billionaires led by the infamous Koch brothers. Mayer’s book catalogs the rise and the expansion into a vast array of front groups of this operation and the role in it of two of America’s more shameless villains Charles and David Koch.

If you want a little more history on this unholy alliance, you can read “Poison Tea,” a new book out by Jeff Nesbit. Mr. Nesbit was a Republican who worked in the Bush 41 White House. He was there at the creation. He has reviewed an enormous array of documents and he has written an amazing exposé.

The Koch brothers’ say one thing, do another strategy is every bit as bad as the say one thing, do another strategy of their oil and gas allies. Remember, here is what they now say:

“Charles has said the climate is changing. So, the climate is changing. ….. I think he’s also said, and we believe that humans have a part in that.” Again, that is the Koch Industries’ rep.

Here is what they still do: They threaten that Republicans who support a carbon tax or climate regulations would “be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process. ….. We would absolutely make that a crucial issue.” That is the President of Americans for Prosperity, the juggernaut of the Koch brothers-backed political network, which has promised to spend, believe it or not, $750 million just in this 2016 election. What on Earth could they possibly want to spend $750 million on?

Americans for Prosperity’s president also takes credit for the “political peril” they are proud to have created for Republicans who cross them on climate change. This threat is not subtle. Step out of line and here come the attack ads and the primary challengers all funded by the deep pockets of the fossil fuel industry, powered up by Citizens United.

The result? The issue of climate change is completely absent from the Republican campaigns. They really don’t want to talk about it. Every Republican candidate has gone into silence or outright denial. Their silence or outright denial is exactly paralleled on the floor of this body.

Just this week, a bipartisan effort to extend tax incentives for renewable energy fell apart after it was reported that the Kochs and an array of their front groups told the Senate majority to cease and desist from allowing an extension of renewable tax credits the majority had already agreed to. So down came the FAA bill compromise. Of course, the Big Oil tax credits have been baked into the Tax Code, and there is no contesting them that is allowed. We now have a field in which renewable tax credits that were agreed to are not in place, but Big Oil protects its own tax breaks as the fossil fuel industry attacks the renewable tax breaks.

Look at what fossil fuel influence has done to the business lobby groups. The Chamber of Commerce, which is probably more accurately defined now as the chamber of carbon, the American Petroleum Institute, even the National Association of Manufacturers, the National Federation of Independent Business, and the Farm Bureau–Big Oil and the Koch brothers have locked them all down. It is a wall of opposition among those groups to any sensible conversation about carbon pollution.

I have spoken before about the well-defended castle of denial constructed by the big polluters to attack and harass their opponents and to keep out the unwelcome truths of climate science. Built as it is on a foundation of lies, the denial castle is bound to crumble. We have seen cracks begin to appear in the edifice. This revelation on the part of the Koch brothers that they finally see that climate change is real and manmade is another collapse. It is a big collapse.

But don’t believe they are surrendering their position entirely. What we see here in Congress is that they are still fighting as hard as ever. They are just conceding some of their more extreme positions because they know some of their nonsense is now simply beyond the pale and is not acceptable. This is just a strategic retreat from a preposterous stance.

Every major scientific society in America agrees on the cause and urgency of climate change, and, I think, so do every one of our major State universities–certainly every one I have looked at–all of our National Labs, NASA, NOAA, America’s national security and intelligence community, and all the corporations that signed the American Business Act on Climate Pledge, which includes major corporations from a lot of our Republican colleagues’ home States. That is a lot of information to deny and ignore, and that is an awful lot of legitimate people to claim our part of the hoax.

Here it comes–the whole structure of deceit and denial erected by the fossil fuel interest is creaking and crumbling. More than a dozen attorneys general are starting to poke and probe. My Republican colleagues may want to consider getting out of the way of this because the day is coming–and soon–when the whole denier castle collapses, and that day cannot come too soon.

I yield the floor.