July 28, 2015

Time to Wake Up: Wisconsin Governor Ignores Threats of Climate Change

Mr. President, in poll after poll, the American people have told this Congress that it is time to wake up to the ever-growing threat from carbon pollution. Two-thirds of Americans support the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan to cut emissions from powerplants and invest in energy efficiency and renewable energy. Even a majority of Republicans support action to reduce carbon pollution. But we do nothing.

So here I am again, for the 108th time, for a speech of which the Presiding Officer has become something of a frequent flyer, to urge that we listen to our constituents and do the job that we were sent here to do.

Sadly, Congress is stuck in the grip of the big polluters and their unlimited, unreported campaign spending. After the dreadful Citizens United Supreme Court decision of 2010, two things happened. One, corporate political spending poured into secretive unaccountable groups that now wield untold influence in our elections. Two, Republicans–particularly Republican voices in Congress–fell silent on carbon pollution and climate change. It was a stopper.

So despite the wishes of the American people and despite an overwhelming scientific consensus, the majority in the Senate has no plan whatsoever to address the catastrophic changes we see in our oceans and our atmosphere, in our farms and our forests.

Many of the Republican candidates for President, for fear of offending their fossil fuel billionaire donors, ignore not only the clear tide of public opinion and not only the warnings of our scientific and national security officials but ignore the climate disruptions in their own home States. They ignore the homegrown climate research of their own State’s scientists and universities.

Earlier this year I came to the floor with my colleague and friend, Senator Baldwin of Wisconsin, to consider the effects of carbon pollution in her Badger State. Senator Baldwin is a fierce defender of Wisconsin families and businesses and is fighting to protect Wisconsin’s climate, from the Great Lakes to the legendary dairy farms.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, on the other hand, has gone another way. He has gone right down the fossil fuel industry rabbit hole. He pulled the plug on scientific and environmental functions in State government and he attacks environmental programs in the Federal Government.

Let’s look at the facts in Wisconsin. According to the scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, weather stations around Wisconsin measure that average temperatures in Wisconsin increased by about 1.1 degrees Fahrenheit between 1950 and 2006. During the same period, Wisconsin got wetter as well as warmer. Annual average precipitation in Wisconsin increased by almost 3 inches–again, measured.

As more and more carbon pollution piles up in the atmosphere, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison estimate and project that by midcentury Wisconsin could warm by 4 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit. By the end of the century, the climate in Wisconsin may look more like that of present-day Missouri or Oklahoma, raising the prospect of dramatic shifts in the Wisconsin economy and way of life.

These changes would not be kind to Wisconsin’s iconic badger. The Upper Midwest and Great Lakes Landscape Conservation Cooperative lists the Wisconsin badger as one of the region’s species at risk from climate change. It has no apparent effect on Governor Walker, however.

There was the Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts. The Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts was formed in 2007 by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the University of Wisconsin Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. The scientists and public officials in this program are studying how climate change will affect Wisconsin’s wildlife, water resources, and public health, and important Wisconsin industries such as forestry, agriculture, and shipping and tourism on the Great Lakes.

Climate change threatens pillars of the Wisconsin economy. The initiative’s agricultural working group reports that higher summer temperatures and increasing drought will create significant stress on livestock, even touching Wisconsin’s famed cheese industry. Victor Cabrera, an assistant professor in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Dairy Science Department, says that this heat stress interferes with both fertility and milk production. Dairy cows could give as much as 10 percent less milk. Professor Cabrera in Wisconsin is not alone. He is not alone. The U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that by 2030 climate change will cost the U.S. dairy sector between $79 million and $199 million per year in lost production. Does Governor Walker care? Apparently not, but the University of Wisconsin does.

So it is leading a USDA-funded effort to identify practices that minimize greenhouse gases from milk production and make dairies more resilient to Wisconsin’s changing climate. Some Wisconsin dairy farmers, for instance, are burning excess methane in enormous manure digesters to generate their own renewable electricity.

It is not just the farmers. Wisconsin has sportsmen. Wisconsin’s sportsmen treasure Wisconsin’s 10,000 miles of trout streams–some of the best trout fishing in the country. Trout Unlimited found that fishing in the Driftless Area of southwest Wisconsin and parts of Illinois, Minnesota, and Iowa adds over $1 billion per year to the surrounding economy. But the cold-water fish such as the brook trout are highly sensitive to temperature increases in streams.

Under the worst cases analyzed by the researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, “brook trout are projected to be completely lost from Wisconsin streams.” Even the best case scenarios see losses of as much as 44 percent of the Wisconsin brookies’ current range by midcentury. That is Wisconsin’s own Department of Natural Resources. Other cold water species such as the brown trout are not much better off than the brookies.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is not alone. It is not alone. The American Fly Fishing Trade Association said this in a recent public statement:

“Climate change is no longer a potential threat; it demands our attention now. ….. We call on our elected officials to put partisan politics aside and work quickly to enact federal policy to address the threats presented by global climate change.”

On to Wisconsin’s loggers, Wisconsin has a significant logging industry, and the loggers are having trouble getting to the timber when hard, frozen winter ground becomes too thawed and too soggy to hold up logging equipment. According to a study out of the University of Wisconsin, that frozen period for loggers to work has decreased by 2 to 3 weeks since 1948, shortening the working window for loggers before their gear bogs down.

In every corner of the State, Wisconsin’s own scientists are seeing dramatic climate changes. Wisconsin’s businesses and communities are already taking a hard hit. How does their Governor respond? You can probably see this coming: “I am not a scientist”–the classic denier dodge.

Governor Walker, we know you are not a scientist, but it is OK because you have some of the top scientists right there at your own University of Wisconsin. You have teams of scientists working for you at your State agencies right in Wisconsin.

But do we expect that Scott Walker will listen to a scientist? No. No. He has a different plan–to eliminate more than 60 positions at the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, including dozens of scientific staff. That is one way to not have to listen to them.

Whom does Scott Walker listen to? Well, the Koch Brothers political network has said it plans on spending $900 million in the 2016 election cycle–$900 million. The President of one of the biggest Koch Brothers-backed organizations, Tim Phillips of a group called Americans for Prosperity, has threatened publicly that any Republican candidate in the 2016 Presidential campaign who supported climate action “would be at a severe disadvantage in the Republican nomination process.”

So they are going to throw $900 million at the election, and they have a “severe disadvantage” threat floating around. Nice little campaign you got here; be a shame if it was severely disadvantaged.

Well, it did not take Governor Walker long to sign that same Americans for Prosperity organization’s no climate tax pledge–what do you know–vowing to oppose any legislation on climate change without an equivalent amount of tax cuts. It is amazing what waving around $900 million will do.

Whom else does Scott Walker listen to? Well, the majority leader recently called on all Governors to rebel against the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. So far, only six took up the majority leader’s call. One of them is–guess who–Scott Walker. In December he wrote to the EPA that their plan would be “a blow to Wisconsin residents and business owners.” In January he announced that he was planning to sue the Agency instead.

Maybe Governor Walker would think differently if he listened to Wisconsin’s business owners. Lori Compas, executive director of the Wisconsin Business Alliance, endorsed the EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal as a boon, a benefit to the Wisconsin economy. Here is what she said: “Encouraging renewable energy development will result in business growth, job creation, cleaner air, and a quicker path to energy independence.”

That is what she wrote.

I will continue. She said: “Our society does not have to decide whether our policies should favor jobs or the environment. We should look for opportunities for us to promote jobs and the environment and the Clean Power Plan is a great way to do that.”

That is the Wisconsin Business Alliance speaking. Those Wisconsin businesses are not alone. They are not alone. Yesterday 13 of the largest corporations in America joined in President Obama’s American Business Act on Climate Pledge, committing to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy sources, and promote sustainable practices across their respective markets and up their supply chains.

These are some pretty big-time nameplate Americans companies: Alcoa, Apple, Bank of America, Berkshire Hathaway Energy, Cargill, Coca-Cola, General Motors, Goldman Sachs, Google, Microsoft, PepsiCo, UPS, and Walmart. That is a pretty broad spectrum of America’s corporate hierarchy. Is it the Republican majority’s position that they are all also in on the hoax?

The Republican majority has accused NASA’s scientists, whose just flew a craft by Pluto and who are driving a rover around on the surface of Mars, of being in on a hoax; that climate change is a hoax and that NASA scientists are in on it. Is Walmart in on the hoax too? Do the Senators from Arkansas want to go home and tell the Walmart executives that they are in on a hoax? Do the Senators from Georgia want to go home and tell the CEO of Coca-Cola that they are in on a hoax? I don’t think so. It is an untenable argument.

We have to move on. These leaders of American commerce declare, in a voice that Republicans should listen to:

We recognize that delaying action on climate change will be costly in economic and human terms, while accelerating the transition to a low-carbon economy will produce multiple benefits with regard to sustainable economic growth, public health, resilience to natural disasters and the health of the global environment.

That is quite a crowd who signed off on that statement. More will come because other companies, such as VF Industries and Mars and Unilever, agree with them.

Our good Earth is sending us a clear message. The message our good Earth is sending us is that carbon pollution is driving unprecedented change. It is showing the change happening in the Earth around us. Voters too are sending us a clear message. They are speaking up to say that climate change is a problem and they want their leaders to take action and that it is time we got our heads out of the sand.

Unfortunately, there is a problem. The big polluters have a powerful political megaphone. They do not hesitate to use it. They back it up with big, dark money campaign spending that is distorting our democracy in disgraceful ways.

The result is that, like so many Republican candidates for the Presidency, Scott Walker of Wisconsin has no plan, will not listen to his home State scientists at his home State university, and ignores what his loggers and trout fishermen and businesses are all seeing and saying.

But, oh my, does he listen to the big polluters.

I yield the floor.