March 12, 2019

Time To Wake Up: The Party With No Plan

As-prepared for delivery

There’s no doubt that climate change is happening, that it is caused by human activity, and that we must act now to avoid the worst of it.  But for too long we’ve seen the fossil fuel industry, and its army of front groups, use manufactured doubt — phony doubt — as their weapon of choice to obstruct any solution.

Well, science studies things, and it even studies doubt.  A scientific study published by Nature has found that the evidence of human-caused climate change occurring has now achieved what they call the five-sigma level of certainty.  This scientific standard means there is 99.9999 percent confidence that Earth is warming due to human activity.

Put another way, that is a one-in-3.5-million chance that human-caused warming is not occurring.  To compare, you’ve got a one-in-15,000 chance that you will be struck by lightning in your lifetime.  You’ve got a one-in-100,000 chance of being born a conjoined twin.  And you’ve got a one-in-3.5 million chance the fossil fuel industry’s phony doubt about climate change is true.

Yet just one Republican has signed on to Senator Carper’s resolution stating the basics:  that climate change is real, and caused by human activity, and Congress should take action now to address it.  In an editorial last week, even the middle-of-the-road USA Today said climate change is “a true crisis facing the United States and the world,” that “fossil-fuel polluters keep using the atmosphere as a free waste dump,” and that “[t]he public is growing impatient.”

Last week here on the Senate floor, we actually had something resembling a climate debate break out.  It was a little weird.  As a debate, it coughed and banged and sputtered, and we didn’t really engage.  Our Republican colleagues had a really hard time mentioning the phrase “climate change.”  They found it impossible to talk at all about the costs of climate change — the floods, the fires, the rising seas, the worse yet to come.  No one could mention the 1.5 decrees Centigrade limit we need to meet.  They mostly wanted to have fun bashing their imaginary, Koch-brothers-invented version of the Green New Deal. 

However, some of them did say they accepted the science.   In particular, I was happy to see the Chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee clearly accept that climate change is real, and is caused by humans, and that we have a responsibility to do something about it.  I appreciate that he pointed to the bipartisan work he and I have done on carbon capture and removal.  I enjoyed working with him on that legislation and I hope we can get its successor bill passed, too — we just had a very good bipartisan hearing on it.

But, put those two bills together and you’re still nowhere near the scale of action the science demands.  Our scientists report that we must aim for net-zero carbon emissions by the middle of this century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.  Carbon capture will be a part of that, but there is zero chance it alone will be sufficient — and any plan that falls short of that mark amounts to its own brand of climate denial.  Bashing the Green New Deal doesn’t solve this problem.

That USA Today editorial, saying climate change is “a true crisis facing the United States and the world,” also took to task the Green New Deal critics, saying “the critics owe this and future generations more than scorn; they have an obligation to put better ideas and solutions on the table.”  So far we haven’t seen much from my Republican colleagues by way of real solutions.

Okay, we get you don’t like the Green New Deal.  So let’s consider other proposals.  We’ve got them on the Democratic side.  We have had cap and trade, keep it in the ground, Green New Deals, and revenue-neutral carbon fee proposals.  Today, I’m joined by my colleague from Maryland to discuss his ideas.  We are ready.

Republicans last week said they wanted innovation to address climate change.  Great.  Me too.  But you can’t count on the Innovation Fairy to fly down and wave Innovation Fairy Dust on the problem and make it go away.  One of the reasons our bipartisan carbon capture bill was necessary is because there was not enough innovation; and there was not enough innovation because “fossil-fuel polluters keep using the atmosphere as a free waste dump.”    It’s really hard to spur innovation when there’s no revenue in the business model, so our bill put revenue in.  We did it in the form of tax credits. 

But the big driver for developing innovative new technologies would be a price on carbon, like Senator Schatz and I have in our American Opportunity Carbon Fee Act:  a revenue-neutral, border-adjustable carbon fee.  This bill passes all major Republican tests: it’s a market solution that fixes a market failure; it does not grow government or regulation; and it does not put American industry at a disadvantage against our competitors.  And it will drive innovation:  put a $50/ton price on carbon emissions, and every polluter paying the price has an incentive to spend up to $49/ton on solutions.

This carbon pricing idea has support from a swath of senior Republican officials, including seven Chairs of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers, six current and former members of Congress, four EPA Administrators, three Secretaries of State or Treasury, two Chairs of the Federal Reserve, and a Congressional Budget Office Director.  All Republicans.  Some of these Republicans were members of a group of prominent economists, including 27 Nobel Prize winners, that recently published this statement in the Wall Street Journal supporting such a carbon fee model.  Over 3,500 U.S. economists have since signed this statement.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Inglis said of our carbon fee proposal, “Democrats . . . have offered Republicans an olive limb, not just an olive branch.”  That branch will remain extended as long as it takes.  If you think all our bills are no good, come up with something better.  I am ready to work with Republicans on passing a carbon fee or other climate change legislation.

But when you won’t propose anything, and won’t agree to anything, even an “olive limb,” then that’s a pretty strong sign that there’s something else going on beyond objections to a Green New Deal.

I yield the floor.