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Public Statements

Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, before I embark on my own remarks, let me say how pleased I am to have a chance to follow the Senator from Illinois. I have had the chance to preside in the Senate, as the Senator from New York is doing now, on several occasions, and to be present on the floor on other occasions when Senator Durbin has come to the floor to speak about the DREAM Act and his passion for the opportunity it provides to young people who are in this country through no fault of their own, who know no other home in the world, and who will one day be great Americans--people who will be leaders and performers and experts and scientists and provide great value to our country--I am delighted he is doing it again. His persistence matches his passion. And, finally, with the President's decision the other day, it is beginning to reap some rewards. I hope there is more to come in the future.

Madam President, I ask to speak as in morning business.

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Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I will speak on carbon pollution and the damage we are doing to our world. As I try to point out every week--and last week I was not able to, but Senator Kerry made a wonderful, marvelous, very compelling speech on this subject. We have kept the floor busy every week between the two of us. I hope other Senators will join us more and more.

This is an issue we have to address. It is a disgrace, frankly, that this is one of the very few buildings in this country in which climate denial is still happening wholesale. Here and the boardroom of ExxonMobil are probably the two holdout locations.

I want to address a few things that happened this week. I want to begin by correcting an error I made in remarks last week when I came to the floor and spoke in favor of EPA's mercury and air toxic standards for powerplants.

This is very important to Rhode Island, as we are a downwind State--as is a good deal of New York--and we are bombarded by Midwestern powerplants that, frankly, deliberately send polluted air into the atmosphere through high smokestacks so that it will land elsewhere. Guess what. We are the elsewhere.

We were about to vote on a resolution that would have avoided these standards and put Rhode Island at considerable peril. It would have gone so far as to bar the EPA from ever issuing a similar rule. It would have had a lasting, as well as damaging, effect. It was a reckless proposal. I am pleased we defeated it in the Senate.

During my remarks about this rule, I discussed the health hazards that mercury pollution poses for the people of my Rhode Island, the pollution that comes out of these tall smokestacks, very often with no scrubbers of any kind, and which spews right out and comes to Rhode Island in the form of ozone, which causes us to have ``bad air days,'' where children, people with breathing difficulties, and old folks have to stay indoors. They are basically kept prisoners indoors because of out-of-State polluters who won't clean up their act. The other thing is mercury and mercury poisoning, which is serious in my State.

The Rhode Island Department of Health warns that ``high-risk'' populations--pregnant women, women who may become pregnant, and small children--should not eat any freshwater fish in Rhode Island because of the danger of mercury poison and mercury contamination. That is sadly correct. I also said that the health department warns that no one should ever eat any of the fish caught in three bodies of water in Rhode Island--the Quidnick Reservoir, Wincheck Pond, and Yawgoog Pond. That sadly is also true.

Finally, I said the health department suggests that anyone who catches freshwater fish in Rhode Island should limit their intake to one serving of this fish a month to protect their health from mercury contamination. In fact, it is more nuanced than that. The health department has issued different warnings for the general population depending on the body of water. So it is not always true that anybody who catches freshwater fish should limit it to one serving a month. I suggest Rhode Islanders consider consulting the health department's Web site, where the agency lists fish advisories by pond and river. That way they can make an informed decision for themselves and their families as to where and when fish are safe to eat.

It doesn't obviously change the larger point that mercury contamination is a continuing public health problem in Rhode Island, and one we can do little about without EPA defending us, because in these other States it is a great deal for them to be able to poison our State's water but get cheaper power in their States because they don't force their utilities to put scrubbers on and to keep themselves operating at appropriate levels of pollution control.

On that same front, this was a good news week from the EPA. They have fought hard to show that carbon dioxide is in fact a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That case was taken all the way to the Supreme Court, and the Court agreed that could be the case if the EPA determined those greenhouse gases might ``reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.'' The EPA went forward and, in 2009, they made this endangerment finding. There have been delays along the way, but I won't get into the history of that rule under the Bush administration now.

The EPA made that endangerment finding and promulgated three additional rules, which are the tailpipe rule, which sets greenhouse gas emissions for motor vehicles; the timing rule, which clarifies when the stationary sources are required to meet pollution standards for greenhouse gases; third is the tailoring rule, which limits the application of this rule to the big polluters so that you are not going after small or inconsequential sources, you are targeting the folks who are putting out tons of pollution.

That was a very good day. The DC Circuit decision was quite strong. I will take a moment to read some of it into the Record:

Industry Petitioners also assert that the scientific evidence does not adequately support the Endangerment Finding. As we have stated before in reviewing the science-based decisions of agencies such as EPA, ``[a]lthough we perform a searching and careful inquiry into the facts underlying the agency's decisions, we will presume the validity of agency action as long as a rational basis for it is presented.''

They went on to say this:

The body of scientific evidence marshaled by EPA in support of the Endangerment Finding is substantial. EPA's scientific evidence of record included support for the proposition that greenhouse gases trap heat on earth that would otherwise dissipate into space; that this ``greenhouse effect'' warms the climate; that human activity is contributing to increased atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases; and that the climate system is warming.

Based on this scientific record, EPA made the linchpin finding: in its judgment, the ``root cause'' of the recently observed climate changes is ``very likely'' the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

And they continue below:

Relying again upon substantial scientific evidence, EPA determined that anthropogenically induced climate change threatens both public health and public welfare. It found extreme weather events, changes in air quality, increases in food-borne and waterborne pathogens, and increases in temperature are likely to have adverse health effects. The record also supports EPA's conclusion that climate change endangers human welfare by creating risk to food production and agriculture, forestry, energy, infrastructure, ecosystems, and wildlife. Substantial evidence further supported EPA's conclusion that the warming resulting from the greenhouse gas emissions could be expected to create risks to water resources and in general to coastal areas--

Such as my home State of Rhode Island, I will interject--

as a result of expected increase in sea level.

Industry Petitioners do not find fault with much of the substantial record EPA amassed in support of the Endangerment Finding--

Nor could they, I would interject--

rather, they contend that the record evidences too much uncertainty to support that judgment. But the existence of some uncertainty does not, without more, warrant invalidation of an endangerment finding.

As we have stated before, ``Awaiting certainty will often allow for only reactive, not preventive, regulation. This language [in the Clean Air Act describing endangerment findings] requires a precautionary, forward-looking scientific judgment about the risks of a particular air pollutant, consistent with the Clean Air Act's ``precautionary and preventive orientation.''

So here we have three judges of the rather conservative District of Columbia Court of Appeals throwing out all of the challenges to the endangerment findings--the ``tailpipe'' rule, the ``timing'' rule, and the ``tailoring'' rule--and recognizing that although there may be some doubt on the fringes, there is plenty of evidence for reasonable people to take sensible precautions and to do what is right.

As I have said before in other speeches, there is a strategy that is being pursued by the polluting industries, and it is to create enough doubt not to affect what is really happening out there but to affect public judgment; to put enough propaganda into the system that people think: Oh, maybe we shouldn't be so sure about this.

The context I put that doubt in is how prudent a parent would be for the care of a child. The statistics are that 97 percent of practicing climate scientists acknowledge climate change is happening, that we are causing it with carbon pollution, and we have to get serious about it--97 percent.

So translate that to your own life as a parent. Your child has symptoms, doesn't look right, and you go to the doctor. The doctors says: I am pretty sure she has this condition and she needs treatment.

The treatments may be a little unpleasant, a little expensive, so you want to be careful and you decide to get a second opinion. You go to another doctor, and the doctor says the exact same thing. But you have a friend who is a doctor, and so you decide to get a third opinion. You go to your friend and you get a third opinion. At that point most prudent parents would probably act.

What the polluting industry and the people who support them in this Chamber expect us to do is to act like that parent except go to 100 doctors, get 99 second opinions, and then, when only three of them say your kid is OK, don't worry about it, you don't need to do a thing, or there is some doubt about what the disease is, even though 97 percent of those doctors say, yes, she is sick, you better get her this treatment--and ignore the 97 percent. Listen to the 3 percent. No decent parent would do that. In fact, you would probably lose your right to continue to be a parent for your child in those circumstances if the child welfare agency became aware of the kind of risk you were putting your child in in those circumstances. But that is the way they want us to behave in this institution.

I am at a loss for a word to describe what kind of logic it is that would be appropriate to the dignity and decorum of this particular Chamber.

There is a magazine--a rather conservative magazine--called The Economist. It is hardly associated with liberal or environmental causes. It is a world magazine. They have just done a special that is called ``The Vanishing North,'' about what is happening in the Arctic. In the summary of the report, they say:

The Arctic's glaciers, including those of Greenland's vast ice cap, are retreating. The land is thawing: the area covered by snow in June is roughly a fifth less than in the 1960s. The permafrost is shrinking. Alien plants, birds, fish and animals are creeping north: Atlantic mackerel, haddock and cod are coming up in Arctic nets. Some Arctic species will probably die out.

It is a stunning illustration of global warming, the cause of the melt. It also contains grave warnings of its dangers. The world would be mad to ignore them.

It is printed in England, so ``mad'' has the English sense of the word ``insane.''

The report continues:

The main reason appears to be a catalytic warming effect, triggered by global warning. When snow or ice melt, they are replaced by darker melt-water pools, land or sea. As a result, the Arctic surface absorbs more solar heat. This causes local warming, therefore more melting, which causes more warming, and so on. This positive feedback shows how even a small change to the Earth's systems can trigger much greater ones.

The report continues:

The worry that needs to be taken most seriously is climate change itself. The impact of the melting Arctic may have a calamitous effect on the planet. It is likely to disrupt oceanic circulation--the mixing of warm tropical and cold polar waters, of which the gulf stream is a part--and thawing permafrost will lead to the emission of masses of carbon dioxide and methane, and thus further warming. It is also raising sea levels. The Greenland ice sheet has recently shed around 200 gigatonnes of ice a year, a fourfold increase on a decade ago. If the warming continues, it could eventually disintegrate, raising the sea level by seven meters.

The ocean State of Rhode Island could ill-afford a sea-level rise of 7 meters.

Many of the world's biggest cities--

And the Senator from New York, who is presiding, represents one of the worlds's biggest--

would be inundated long before that happened.

That is from the summary of The Economist report. If I go into the actual report itself, there are a few other compelling parts, speaking to the Arctic.

The summer sea ice is at its lowest level for at least 2,000 years. Six of the hottest years on record--going back to 1880--have occurred since 2004. ..... The last time the polar regions were significantly warmer was about 125,000 years ago. This transformation is in fact happening faster than anyone had predicted. According to an authoritative 2011 assessment for the Arctic Council, ``it is now becoming very clear that the cryosphere--

That is the frozen part of the Arctic--

is changing rapidly and that neither observationsnor models are able to tell the full story.''

This is not without cost. Further quoting from The Economist:

The World Bank estimates the cost of adapting to climate change between 2010 and 2050 at $75 billion-$100 billion a year; other estimates are higher.

Here is what they conclude:

Sooner or later such arithmetic is going to force governments to get serious about dealing with climate change. It is already clear what is required; policies to put an appropriate price on carbon emissions through a tax or market-based system, that is sufficient to persuade polluters to develop and adopt cleaner technologies. These are already available, and so is the ingenuity needed to force down their costs and bring them to market.

But then, in a sentimental closing, the article concludes:

But the Arctic will nonetheless be radically changed. ..... This much is already inevitable.

So the denial that continues in this body continues to have a high price. As I have pointed out, the science on this is neither new nor questionable. The scientist Tyndall, back at the time of the Civil War, first determined that a carbon CO

2 blanket creates a warming effect. That was nearly 150 years ago. So there is nothing new about this.

The fringe scientists who are used by the polluters to create this doubt for propaganda purposes are indeed a fringe, as this resounding decision from the U.S. District Court shows. The perils our planet is facing are manifesting themselves now in the Arctic. As one of the scientists said in The Economist report--and I will have to paraphrase because I don't have the quote in front of me--when you get up here, Greenland, Norway, the Arctic, climate change is not a theory, it is an observation. It is what is happening around us. It is happening in the polar regions because they are more vulnerable, but we are seeing it everywhere.

Wildfires tear through the West, Florida is beaten under unprecedented levels of rainstorms, and insurance companies across the country are predicting even worse storms. The biggest insurers and reinsurers came to Washington to join with environmental Senators to say: You have to do something about this. This is really coming.

These aren't liberals, these aren't environmentalists, these aren't people from the Sierra Club. These are the flinty-eyed accountants of the major international insurance and reinsurance companies, and their warnings deserve listening to.

My time has expired, Madam President. I yield the floor at this point, and I suggest the absence of a quorum.

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