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Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, President Obama's call to action on climate change is another reminder of the large and growing threat posed by the warming of our atmosphere. Yet instead of taking a leading role to address the problem, Congress has been held hostage by those who would deny the science altogether. Every day that we delay, we are losing ground in the race to develop new sources of energy that can protect the planet and break the grip of our dependence on fossil fuels.
This past year was one of the most extreme years for our Nation's weather. It was the warmest year on record for the U.S.; and droughts, wildfires, and floods were far more frequent and far more intense. In fact, nine of the 10 hottest years since 1880 have been in the past decade.
In 2012, 9.3 million acres of land across the country burned in wildfires, more than double the annual average, and the second highest ever. Rainfall was far below the average, and it was one of the driest years in memory. Droughts, heat waves, and wildfires are now the norm rather than the exception.
The extreme weather was also a significant drag on our economy: Superstorm Sandy cost $65 billion; western wildfires cost over $1 billion; and losses from drought cost $30 billion. Greenhouse gases emitted as a result of human activity are the biggest drivers of climate change. That is a fact that is accepted by virtually every scientist around the world.
We're only beginning to understand the impact of a global temperature rise on a nation's long-term environmental health and the health of the world; but with each new report by NASA, by the U.N., by universities here and overseas, we see that the threat grows and the possibility that we can avoid catastrophe and catastrophic consequences in the future recedes.
Some in this body have questioned the science, noting that droughts, floods, and climatic variations have been observed for centuries, often recalling Noah and his ark; but the speed and magnitude of the changes we are witnessing are consistent with scientific modeling of the effects of human activity on the climate. We must act now.
First, we have to diversify our energy sources. Instead of tax breaks for Big Oil, we should be investing in the development of new and renewable energy sources.
Second, we must work to reduce our emissions. Power plants are the single largest source of emissions in the U.S., accounting for roughly 40 percent of all domestic greenhouse gases, and the EPA must put in place Federal standards that will regulate both new and existing power plants.
Third, we must build a 21st-century transportation infrastructure and system that will support a growing economy and population. This means we need to invest in mass transit systems, and car makers must continue to improve fuel economy standards.
And fourth, we need to work with the international community, not against it, as many in this body have tried to do. America must take a leadership role. We need the cooperation of China and India, but we should not let their foot-dragging prevent us from taking actions that will protect our future.
President Obama took an important step in exerting American leadership on climate change when he called for action at the Federal level to curb carbon pollution, just as we limit our toxic chemicals, like mercury, sulfur, and arsenic. The President also wants to allow wind and solar energy companies to use government-owned land to generate more power.
These are good ideas, but a major effort on climate change depends on congressional action, and so far we have allowed this important issue, one that will affect our children and grandchildren, to become a partisan wedge issue.
This country did not become great by ignoring problems or wishing them away. We did not become great by mocking scientists and those who would rely on cold, hard facts or, in this case, long, hot, endless summers. And we did not become great by ceding leadership in new technologies and new markets to our competitors, like China.
The time to address climate change is now.