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Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to share my views on the preeminent environmental challenge facing our generation--climate change. I believe we must urgently address this looming issue--in partnership with the rest of the world--and I commend the bill's authors for finally getting this dialogue started after years of White House and congressional inaction.

Scientists have determined conclusively that an ongoing buildup of greenhouse gas emissions is causing the Earth's climate to warm and will likely lead to drought, flooding, and other catastrophic natural disasters.

The most recent United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report found that about 1 billion people will be affected by water shortages because of declining snow cover on land currently used by one-sixth of the world's population.

The report also predicts global warming will parch large swaths of the Earth, threatening the existence of up to 30 percent of its animals and plants.

Global warming's impact on the Pacific Northwest could be particularly harmful because our temperatures are rising faster than the global average. In Washington, climate change is expected to alter the region's historic water cycle, threatening drinking water supplies, wildlife and salmon habitat, and the availability of emissions-free hydropower. We are also already seeing the ominous beginning of ocean acidification off our coastline.

According to a University of Washington analysis, temperatures in the Puget Sound region will rise about 2 degrees by 2050. Cascade mountain temperatures could rise 10 degrees or more, causing snowpacks to be reduced to just 20 percent of their current levels by 2090.

In the eastern half of my State, temperatures are expected to rise even faster. By 2050, parts of the Columbia Basin could be up to 5 degrees hotter. In 2090, much of the basin will be up to 8 degrees warmer, very harmful to eastern Washington agriculture.

There has been a great deal of discussion of what the accumulation of greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide is doing to change the Earth's atmosphere. I am very concerned about that. But today I would like to help my colleagues appreciate carbon dioxide is also slowly, silently, but surely devastating our oceans and the marine life that depend on them.

I would like to share with you the silent devastation of ocean acidification.

Since the start of the Industrial Revolution 130 years ago, humans have released more than 1.5 trillion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, increasing the global atmospheric carbon dioxide concentration by 35 percent. But while carbon dioxide is accumulating in our atmosphere, it is also being rapidly absorbed by our oceans. At least one-third of our carbon dioxide emissions end up in the oceans--more than half a trillion tons since the start of the Industrial Revolution.

For decades, we assumed that the oceans absorbed these greenhouse gases to the benefit of our atmosphere, with no side-effect for the seas.

Science now shows that we were wrong. Today, ocean acidification is actually changing the very chemistry of the oceans. As carbon dioxide is absorbed, seawater becomes more acidic and begins to withhold the basic chemical building blocks needed by many marine organisms.

According to National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration scientists, humans have increased the oceans' acidity by 30 percent since the start of the Industrial Revolution. In such acidic waters, coral reefs--the rainforests of the sea--cannot build their skeletons. In colder waters like the waters of Washington State, scientists predict a more acidic ocean could dissolve the shells of the tiny organisms that make up the base of the ocean's food chain.

A recent article in last month's journal Science detailed how acidic seawater is already moving closer to shallow waters off of Washington State, the habitat for most of my State's marine life.

These frightening findings were a surprise to researchers who didn't expect finding acidic water for several more decades. Because ocean acidification has the capacity to lead to a total collapse of ocean food chains, it will have major impacts on coastal communities that rely on the ocean's bounty.

And when we add ocean acidification to the effects of carbon dioxide coming from a warming atmosphere--increasing ocean temperatures, changing winds and currents, and rising sea levels, it is clear that our carbon emissions will impact our ocean environments in ways far too devastating to ignore.

Not many people think of orca whales, salmon, coral reefs, or oysters when they drive their cars to work each day, but as ocean acidification begins to take its toll, there is definitely a connection between the carbon emissions we emit and the ocean environments we enjoy and depend on.

Last week, I held a Commerce Committee field hearing in Seattle to examine how climate change and ocean acidification are impacting the marine environments of my State. What I heard from my constituents was nothing short of frightening.

Brett Bishop, a fifth-generation shellfish farmer in Mason County, WA, told me how his business is being devastated by the impacts of climate change and ocean acidification. His story can be summed up by two words he said to me: ``I'm scared.''

Climate change is killing his business, and threatens to destroy everything his family has worked for over the past 150 years. If things continue on their current path and Mr. Bishop can't grow his shellfish, then the bank will foreclose on the mortgage, his 27 employees will be left jobless, and his family will lose their farm, their homes, and generations of hard work.

This is not some obscure scientific theory pieced together by academic scientists. This is real, and it is happening now. Today it is shellfish farmers in Mason County, WA. but who will fall victim tomorrow? Commercial fishermen? Coastal tourism from dead coral reefs? Recreational fisheries?

These are frightening possibilities--but very real ones that our Nation will face in the coming years. And unfortunately, if we don't act, Brett Bishop will be one of the millions of Americans with similar stories. And, unfortunately, these dangers are largely under the radar because they occur beneath the surface of the ocean.

That is why one of the amendments to the Climate Security Act I am pleased to be part of includes a bill I introduced with Senator Lautenberg of New Jersey called the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act. Our bill, which passed the Senate Commerce Committee unanimously last December, would establish a much-needed Federal research program on ocean acidification.

This amendment also incorporates my Climate Change Adaptation Act which was also approved unanimously by the Senate Commerce Committee. This important legislation ensures that our Government plans for the changes that global warming will inevitably bring. Because the reality is that even if we were somehow able to stop using fossil fuels today, a certain degree of warming and ocean acidification will still occur over the next two or three decades. Planning for the future isn't just common sense--it is responsible Government.

That brings me back to the Climate Security Act the Senate is debating today. This is the first comprehensive effort to legislate on climate change that has come through the committee process. It is a historic feat, and in many ways it reflects the complexity of this issue and the varied views and stakeholder interests that accompany any effort to cap and trade climate change emissions.

I commend Senators Boxer, Lieberman, and Warner for their leadership in beginning this process and starting us on the path we know we must take soon. As Sun Tzu said in the ``Art of War,'' ``the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.''

Unfortunately, it looks like our debate may end up being largely confined to floor statements because opponents of the bill will succeed in blocking the consideration of any amendments. The minority even forced our hard-working Senate clerks to read the entire text of the bill, word for word, for almost 9 hours on Wednesday. Unfortunately, that is about as fitting an example of how opponents want to stall, delay, and preserve the status quo as one can imagine.

While I do believe we must act urgently and decisively to control our Nation's and planet's greenhouse gas emissions, I do have a number of concerns about the pending legislation.

Ironically, many of my concerns stem from the fact that Washington State is blessed with abundant, affordable, and emissions-free hydropower. Unfortunately, this bill fails to recognize that Washington State has significantly lower carbon dioxide emissions than other parts of the country and how that dynamic poses unique energy challenges going forward.

Some of these challenges are that Washington's hydropower system is largely tapped out, so any future electricity generation will largely come from relatively more polluting sources for which we will not receive any emission allocations under the pending legislation. Similarly, the bill does not provide Washington with any allocations we will need to provide electricity to the 1.5 million people moving to the Puget Sound region by 2020, unlike other parts of the country that rely primarily on fossil fuel generation.

As currently drafted, the bill also effectively penalizes the Pacific Northwest for its years of aggressive energy efficiency measures, which have avoided the construction of 3,400 megawatts of additional capacity. In other words, if we would have built fossil fuel plants instead of conserving, we would be getting emission allocations for it today. In addition, since we have already taken advantage of many of the low-hanging efficiency ``fruit,'' additional efficiency savings would be relatively more costly than in other parts of the country.

I also believe the legislation needs to more carefully consider how Federal climate legislation might preempt or overturn the groundbreaking efforts in Washington State, such as the Western Climate Initiative.

As a scarred veteran of the Western energy crisis, I also have strong concerns that there are not enough safeguards in the bill to prevent excessive speculation and manipulation of emission allocation trading markets. Even today we see what happens when there is not enough transparency and clear rules of conduct in energy markets. Excessive speculation and possibly market manipulation artificially elevate prices and hurt consumers.

And finally, we need to make sure that anything we do is actually going to do the job. Unfortunately, I understand that the emission-reduction caps proposed by this legislation are actually not strong enough to slow or stop global warming according to the latest science.

While I am disappointed that there probably won't be an opportunity to improve the historic legislation before us today, I am proud that after Congress came under new management last year we were able to craft and pass the greenest, most important energy bill in our Nation's history.

The Energy Independence and Security Act, which became law last December, will create cleaner, more diverse sources of energy supply, build new growth industries that support high-wage ``green-collar'' jobs, give consumers and businesses more affordable energy choices, and protect our environment. For instance, this landmark energy legislation aggressively boosts energy efficiency efforts by making our lighting and appliances more efficient and reducing the Federal Government's energy use.

Under the new law, fuel economy standards will increase for the first time in over two decades to a nationwide average of 35 miles per gallon, up from 25 miles per gallon today, by 2020 for all vehicles, including SUV's and light trucks. By 2030, these measures will displace the equivalent of one-third of our foreign oil needs and save American consumers at least half a trillion dollars in energy costs.

And the new energy law includes mandates and incentives that biofuels from nonfood feedstocks such as agriculture and wood waste become a much more significant part of our Nation's effort to end our dependence on fossil fuels and imported oil.

All together, these measures and others will reduce our Nation's carbon dioxide emissions by the same amount as all of our vehicles on the road produce today.

I think it is important to note that while tackling climate change will not be easy or free, moving to a clean energy system, which is a prerequisite to any serious effort to reduced greenhouse gases, has many benefits beyond reducing greenhouse gases and the costs of inaction will be far more significant.

According to a study by the Natural Resources Defense Council and Tufts University, if the United States doesn't do something soon to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions, it could cost the country $3.8 trillion annually from higher energy and water costs, real estate losses from hurricanes, rising sea levels, and other problems.

According to the Apollo Alliance, a labor-environmental partnership, investing $30 billion per year over 10 years would create 3.3 million jobs and boost the Nation's GDP by $1.4 trillion. The Apollo Alliance estimates that dollars invested in clean energy create more jobs than those invested in traditional energy sources because renewable energy is more labor intensive. It is possible for a Nation to grow while being environmentally conscious. For example, the British economy grew by about 40 percent since 1990 while their greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 14 percent.

The science is undeniable that human activities are changing the world we know and love and depend on for our well being. We are already seeing the effects on our oceans, our forests, our crops, and our wildlife--and unless we act, I am afraid the worst is yet to come.

We will only succeed in combating climate change if we work together, across the aisle here in Congress, across our States with their very different greenhouse gas profiles, and across the world. By working together we can find a path forward to solve this greatest of challenges. And if we do it right, the solutions we create will also help address other pressing needs such as providing more clean and renewable energy sources, high-wage manufacturing jobs, and new export markets.

Our Nation and the world is waiting for us to take action--and the lead in preventing and mitigating the catastrophic effects of global climate change. Our children and their children and all of the world's citizens' future depends on it. I look forward to continuing this dialog with my friends on both sides of the aisle.


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