July 8, 2013

Let’s Have the President’s Back on Climate Change

Every week that the Senate is in session — 37 times and counting — I speak out about the need for Congress to wake up and address climate change. I urge my colleagues to take action to protect our planet and future generations, and I try to show the abundant evidence that if we fail to act, the consequences will be dire.

And yet, Congress continues to sleepwalk — refusing to act, or to even have a serious debate about the most significant long-term threat facing our world. A barricade of special-interest influence constrains Congress. Thankfully, we have a president who sides with the American people over the big polluters and climate change deniers.

Last week, President Obama announced a series of steps to slow the effects of climate change and protect our health and economy. His plan will curb dangerous emissions from dirty power plants, help states and communities make smart investments to address the changes we already see emerging, and help galvanize international action to stave off irreparable harm.

New rules for power plant emissions are particularly important. Power plants are the single largest source of carbon pollution and account for nearly one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. each year. We’ve already successfully reduced other dangerous air pollutants like mercury, lead, and arsenic — without economic collapse and with great benefit to public health. This will be no different.

Of course, the big polluters and their allies in Congress are already threatening that the new rules will mean higher prices for consumers. They say energy companies will have no choice but to pass their costs of compliance on to the American people.

But here’s the dirty little secret the polluting industries don’t want you to know: We, the American people, are already paying the costs of their carbon pollution. We pay for their pollution through measurably weaker economic output. Construction workers pay with less work during longer, hotter summers. Shellfish hatcheries pay as ocean water grows warmer and more acidic. Farmers pay as crops wither in sweltering droughts. Florida pays as tourism dollars disappear along with dying coral reefs. Mountain states pay in lost snowpack and dead pine forests.

Those of us near coasts or rivers pay in storm-damaged homes and flooded cities. Thirty-nine percent of Americans live in coastal shoreline counties. The Pentagon says more than 30 military installations are threatened by rising seas — not to mention thousands of miles of roads and bridges. Sea level is projected to rise as much as three feet by the end of the century, allowing bigger, more powerful storms to beat our shores with higher seas.

We pay for power plant pollution through higher health costs. In Rhode Island, as in many parts of the country, we often have “bad air days” during the summer, when seniors, infants, and people with breathing disorders are urged to stay indoors. The number and severity of these days grow with hotter weather, triggering asthma attacks and other respiratory ailments. Bad air also causes hospital trips and lost work and school days, all of which put costs on our communities.

Not a dime of these costs is included in the polluters’ cost of doing business. You and I are picking up the tab as they freeload. And Congress is asleep at the wheel, lulled by the industry’s influence peddlers.

The president’s plan will force the polluters to clean up their act. It sends a clear message that we won’t sit idly by while they dump their pollution, and all its costs, onto the rest of us. And maybe, just maybe, it will knock Congress out of its slumber.

The president’s plan is exactly what we need. It is a serious plan for a serious problem, and it will put us on a path to endow a cleaner planet and more sustainable American economy to our kids and grandkids.

In the words of President Obama, “That is our job. That is our task. We have to get to work.”

By: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse