January 17, 2019

Time To Wake Up: The Polls Have It

As-prepared for delivery

Madam President, with a new year come a lot of changes.  This month, a Democratic majority was sworn into the House of Representatives, and that new majority has heard the call from Americans to make tackling climate change one of its top priorities. 

What a change that will present from the last Congress!

Young voters who helped propel this change are urgently concerned about climate change.  More than three-fourths of millennials agree on the need for climate action, with even a majority of millennial Republicans agreeing on the need for action in the face of our climate crisis.  A Republican former Member of Congress recently wrote about climate change:  “My party will never earn the votes of millennials unless it gets serious about finding solutions.”

It’s not just younger voters.  Polling shows that Americans of all ages and political stripes favor many of the policy solutions scientists and economists say are needed to tackle climate change.

A recent survey of more than 10,000 registered voters showed that nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that investing in renewable energy will create more jobs than investing in fossil fuel.  Among Republicans, 52 percent think that focusing on renewables will create more jobs.

The facts bear this out.  Over 3 million Americans are employed in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries, compared to just over 1 million in fossil fuels.  And there is far, far more job growth in the renewable sector than in the declining, decrepit fossil fuel industry.

Solid majorities of Americans say they want more renewable energy.  Seventy-one percent want more solar, 64 percent want more wind, and 56 percent want more hydropower.  Meanwhile, only 40 percent want more natural gas, only 25 percent want more oil, and only 18 percent want more coal.   Seventy-one percent for solar versus 18 percent for coal — numbers the Trump administration should listen to.  If it were about the numbers.

Make it tough.  Ask Americans about a full transition to 100 percent renewable energy, and most say that 100% transition will be good for working families, including a plurality of Republicans.

Americans, Democrats and Republicans, support policies designed to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change.

When Americans are told about a Green New Deal to reduce carbon pollution and create clean energy jobs by investing in infrastructure, renewable energy, and efficient buildings and transportation systems, almost 70 percent are supportive.  That includes almost 60 percent of Republicans.

Ask about putting a price on carbon pollution.  Right now, the costs of carbon pollution are put on the public: polluters pollute for free, and the rest of us pay for the added drought, flood, wildfire, and storm damage costs.  More than 60 percent of registered voters support pricing carbon to reduce emissions, including a majority of Republicans under the age of 45.

This new polling confirms earlier polling which also showed broad bipartisan support for climate action. 

A Monmouth University poll showed that 64 percent of Republicans now believe in climate change, and a majority of Republicans support government action to combat climate change.

An ABC News poll conducted by researchers at Stanford University showed overwhelming public support for climate action.  Eighty one percent of Americans surveyed supported cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  Two thirds of respondents supported a carbon tax, and 81 percent supported tax breaks for renewable power.

A poll for Yale and George Mason Universities showed that 70 percent of registered voters, including over half of Republicans, support reducing greenhouse gas emissions regardless of what other countries do.  This poll also found majority support across both parties for U.S. participation in the Paris Agreement and overwhelming support for renewables among Republicans, Democrats, and independents.

What’s more, this poll found almost three quarters of registered voters, including over half of Republicans, supported setting strict limits on carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants.  Unfortunately, the Trump administration has decided to do exactly the opposite. And critically, a majority of Republicans, independents, and Democrats supported imposing a revenue neutral carbon tax on fossil fuel companies.

I’ve had a bill with Senator Schatz in the last several Congresses to do just that – charge a fee for carbon emissions and then return all the revenue raised to the American people.  Several bills on the House side price carbon pollution; a few even had Republicans sponsors.

But these bills went nowhere under Republican leadership, notwithstanding these numbers.  Why?  Because the fossil fuel industry opposes them, so no hearings, no vote, no nothing. 

What did get a vote in the House last year?  A resolution condemning carbon pricing, backed of course by the fossil fuel industry.  Virtually every expert, economist, and scientist who has studied the question says that a price on carbon pollution is necessary to keep global temperatures from climbing 2 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial norm, as the scientific consensus makes clear we must do — at a minimum.  If we blow past 2 degrees, all bets are off, and the consequences of climate change may become irreversible.  Even at 1.5 degrees increase, we’re taking chances.

But dozens of industry-backed front groups pushed the resolution, and that settled the question.  They had one thing going for them that Nobel Prize-winning economists couldn’t match: big political money.

Groups behind this letter to Speaker Ryan received at least $54 million dollars from Big Oil and their allies in the Koch brothers network.  At least.  We don’t know for sure, because of their clandestine funding network — likely, it’s far more.  What did they achieve? 

Speaker Ryan brought the fossil-fuel-funded resolution for a vote, of course.  With the Republican House caucus essentially a wholly-owned subsidiary of the fossil fuel industry, the resolution passed.  There’s a whole case study in corruption here, but the simple lesson is:  money talks; and big money commands.

This stinks.  Polls show what Americans want.  Americans want jobs, they want clean air, they want a healthy climate, and they want to be safe from extreme weather and rising seas.  Americans are ready for bipartisan action.  Before Citizens United we had bipartisan action here in the Senate.  But now the strings are pulled by Big Oil, Big Coal, and some creepy fossil fuel industry billionaires.

Special interest money has infected almost everything we do in Congress, and it is the flagrant fact of the climate crisis.  The warnings have been coming for decades.  First from the scientists, then from the economists, now from practically everywhere — Including Republican voters, and particularly young Republican voters. 

The fact of all this Republican support is a sign of hope for the new year, but it is also telling evidence of the secretive political forces at work here to prevent what even Republican voters want.  

There is a rot in our politics, and our failure on climate is a telling indicator of that rot.  

The whole world is watching.  Time is running out.  It is time to wake up, and it’s time to clean up.  

I yield the floor.