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Public Statements

Global Climate Change

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

GLOBAL CLIMATE CHANGE -- (Senate - June 25, 2009)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, I want to make some closing comments with respect to the nomination of Dean Koh. But before I do that, I want to have a chance to share a few thoughts with the distinguished chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee, who has been an extraordinary leader on this subject of global climate change.

Let me be the first to affirm that I rather think the Senator has a terrific life, and I am proud of what she is doing with respect to this issue. It is really interesting. I think it is important for us to talk about a few of the issues.

The Senator from Oklahoma, Mr. Inhofe, has made some comments on the floor of the Senate that are either wrong on the facts or wrong in terms of the judgment politically.

I want to say upfront, as my colleague has said, I enjoy my conversations and my relationship with the Senator enormously. We are both pilots. He flies often, much more frequently than I do these days, but we both share a passion for flight and for aerobatics, and for different kinds of airplanes, and I love talking to him about them.

I wish he were up to state of the art with respect to the science on global climate change. He made a number of comments on the floor of the Senate which Senator Boxer and I just have to set the record straight on: No. 1, suggesting that the science is somehow divided. That is myth. It is wishful thinking, perhaps, on the part of some people. I suppose if your definition of divided is that you have 5,000 people over here and 2 people over here--who want to put together a point of view that is usually encouraged and, in fact, paid for by a particular industry or something--you can claim it is divided.

But by any peer review standard, by any judgment of the broadest array of scientists in the world--not just the United States, across the planet--the science is not divided. The fact is, Presidents of countries are committing their countries to major initiatives on global climate change.

The science is clearly not divided with respect to global climate change. In fact, every major scientist in the United States whose life has been devoted to this effort, such as Jim Hansen at NASA, or John Holdren, the President's Science Adviser--formerly at Harvard--these people will tell you in private warnings that are even far more urgent than the warnings they give in public. The reason is, the science is coming back at a faster rate and to a greater degree in terms of the damage that was predicted than any of these people had predicted.

The fact is, there is a recent study about the melting of the permafrost lid of the planet. It shows in the Arctic--this is the Siberian Shelf Study, which I would ask my colleague from Oklahoma to read--columns of methane rising up out of the sea level, and if you light a match where those columns break out into the open air, it will ignite. Those columns of methane represent a gas that is 20 times more damaging and dangerous than carbon dioxide, and it is now--as the permafrost melts--uncontrollably being released into the atmosphere.

In addition to that, there is an ice shelf, the Wilkins Ice Shelf, down in Antarctica. A 25-mile ice bridge connected the Wilkins Ice Shelf to the mainland of Antarctica. That shattered. It just broke apart months ago. Now we have an ice shelf that for centuries--thousands of years--was connected to the continent that is no longer connected.

We have sea ice which is melting at a rate where the Arctic Ocean is increasingly exposed. In 5 years, scientists predict we will have the first ice-free Arctic summer. That exposes more ocean to sunlight. The ocean is dark. It consumes more of the heat from the sunlight, which then accelerates the rate of the melting and warming, rather than the ice sheet and the snow that used to reflect it back into the atmosphere.

There are countless examples of evidence of what global climate change is already doing across the planet. In Newtok, AK, they just voted to move their village 9 miles inland because of what is happening with the sea ice melt and the melting of the permafrost. We will spend millions of dollars mitigating and adapting to these changes as they come at us.

The Audubon Society has reported a 100-mile wide swath of land in the United States where their gardeners--who do not record themselves as Democrats or Republicans, ideologues, conservatives, or liberals; they are people who like to go out and garden; they are part of the Audubon Society as a result of that--are reporting plants they can no longer plant that used to be able to be planted.

We have millions of acres of forests in Alaska and in Canada that have been lost: spruce and pine to the spruce beetle that used to die, but because it is warmer, now it no longer dies. You can run down a long list.

Mr. President, I am not going to go through all of it here now, but suffice it to say, he is wrong about China. I just came back from a week in China where I met with their leaders. I went out to see what they are doing in wind power. I went to see their energy conservation efforts. They are ahead of us in some respects with respect to those efforts. They have a higher standard of automobile emissions reduction that they are putting in place sooner than we are. They are tripling their level of wind power that they are trying to target. They have a 20-percent energy intensity reduction level that they are now exceeding in several sectors of their economy, which they did not think they would be able to do. In 2 or 3 years, we are going to be chasing China if we do not recognize what has happened and do this.

So the Senator from California, the chairperson of the Environment and Public Works Committee, completely understands, as do many others, this can be done without great cost to our electric production facilities, without our companies losing business and losing jobs. On the contrary, the jobs of the future are going to be in alternative and renewable energy and in the energy future of this country.

There is barely a person I know who does not think we would not be better off in America not sending $700 billion a year to the Middle East to pay for oil so we can blow it up in the sky and pollute and turn around and try to figure out how we are going to spend billions to undo it. Why not spend those $700 billion in the United States creating that energy in the first place, with jobs that do not get sent abroad, and which pay people good value for the job they are doing? It liberates America for our energy security. It provides a better environment.

We are a healthier nation, and we increase our economy. So you get all those pluses. What are they offering? What is the alternative that Senator Inhofe and others are offering? If they are wrong in their predictions, we have catastrophe for the planet.

So I think we are on the right track. China is going to reduce emissions. China will be on a different schedule because that is what the international agreements set up years ago. But as a developing country with 800 million people living on less than $2 a day, it is understandable that they would fight to say: We can't quite meet the same schedule now, but we will get to the same schedule. What is important is that, globally, all countries come together to reduce emissions. That will happen in Copenhagen. It is much more likely to happen in Copenhagen if the United States of America leads here at home. If we undertake these efforts and pass legislation here, I guarantee my colleagues that Copenhagen will be a success and China and other countries will all agree to reductions that are measurable, that are verifiable, and that are reportable.

So we need to get our facts straight as we come at this debate. The Senator from California and I are thirsty and waiting for this debate because we will show how we can reduce emissions, how we can transition our economy with minimal--minimal--costs. In fact, for the first few years, it pays for itself to undertake many of these transformations.

I wish to reemphasize some thoughts in the time I have left about Dean Koh. Dean Koh has been chosen to be legal counsel for the State Department. I have already spoken about his remarkable academic career, his leadership in the legal profession, the respect and glowing praise he has received from colleagues within the legal profession. We have heard a lot about him. I wish to address some of the points that have been raised in opposition to his nomination, some of which I believe are just plain disrespectful and indecent. It is hard to find the rationale for where they come from, frankly--maybe a mean-spiritedness or something--but it is hard, and I am grateful, as I think we all ought to be, that nominees are willing to subject themselves to some of these kinds of arguments. Also, there are some misunderstandings and mischaracterizations.

It is no surprise that not everybody is going to agree with him and every decision or opinion he has made, but the fact is that a lot of the arguments that have been made aren't grounded in reality. First, there have been allegations that his views on foreign law would somehow undermine the Constitution of the United States. Well, please, that is baseless beyond any kind of evidence I have ever seen or any statement he has ever made. Let me repeat what Dean Koh, himself, has said about the primacy of our Constitution. I quote:

My family settled here in part to escape from oppressive foreign law, and it was America's law and commitment to human rights that drew us here and have given me every privilege in life that I enjoy. My life's work represents the lessons learned from that experience. Throughout my career, both in and out of government, I have argued that the U.S. Constitution is the ultimate controlling law in the United States and that the Constitution directs whether and to what extent international law should guide courts and policymakers.

That is definitive. No one should insert any other interpretation into it other than the Constitution is primary.

Some have also argued that Dean Koh's views on international law, particularly on something called ``the transnational legal process,'' would somehow undermine our sovereignty and our security. Again, this represents a fundamental misunderstanding of his views. Dean Koh understands that international law and institutions are simply part of life in a globalized world. Engagement with the international community is inevitable. He believes it is best to engage constructively. Here is what he said at his confirmation hearing:

Transnational legal process ..... says what we all know--that we live in an interdependent world that is growing increasingly more interdependent. It is not new, and ..... [i]t is not an ideology. It is a description of a world in which we live ..... It is from the beginning of the republic. It is the basic views of Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, who called for us to give decent respect to the opinions of mankind. And most importantly, it is necessary and unavoidable that we be able to understand and manage the relationship between our law and other law.

Those aren't the words of an ideologue. They aren't the words of a radical. It is the broad perspective of a deeply knowledgeable and pragmatic and committed advocate for our Nation's interests. It reflects how we represent our interests. It reflects our real challenge, which is how we best use international law and institutions to advance national security interests and promote our core values. That is exactly what Dean Koh has spent his career working on. As one of the world's leading experts on international law, there is nobody better qualified to meet this challenge.

Yesterday, my colleague from Texas suggested that Dean Koh somehow created a moral equivalence between the United States and Iran's brutal and deadly crackdown after the recent election. This is what our colleague said:

Koh appears to draw moral equivalence between the Iranian regime's political suppression and human rights abuses that we've been watching play out on television and America's counterterrorism policies on the other hand. In 2007, he wrote: The United States cannot stand on strong footing attacking Iran for illegal detentions when similar charges can and have been lodged against our own government.

Well, common sense--in one sentence, the Senator accuses Dean Koh of equating our treatment of detainees with Iran's actions and violently suppressing protests this week--right now--and in the next sentence he cites as evidence for that comments that Dean Koh made a couple years ago on an unrelated issue of Iran's treatment of detainees. I have heard of people trying to make ``six degrees of separation'' connections and somehow make it mean something, but this is to the extreme.

The broader point is, Dean Koh was not suggesting there is a moral equivalence between Iran and the United States. He was arguing that we are safer if we can convince countries such as Iran and North Korea to respect global norms and standards. It is harder for the United States to run around the world enlisting allies and marshaling pressure when we are simultaneously forced to fend off accusations of lawless activity by ourselves. So Guantanamos and other things work to deplete our ability to be able to maintain the highest moral ground. That is not moral equivalence. That is a practical reality about how the world works and how you protect the interests of the United States.

We have heard the argument that Dean Koh's position in supporting the regulation of global arms trade is somehow going to infringe on the rights of Americans under the second amendment. Please. I mean, please. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is that Dean Koh supports efforts to regulate the transfer of guns across borders, which does nothing to interfere with the domestic possession of firearms. As he said at his confirmation hearing:

The goal is to prevent child soldiers in places like Somalia and Uganda from having AK-47s transferred from the former Soviet Union. It is not to in some way interfere with the legitimate hunter's right to use a hunting rifle in a national or State park.

Dean Koh went on to unequivocally state that he respects the Supreme Court's decision in Heller, which affirmed the right to bear arms under the second amendment as the law of the land.

There are other criticisms that have been made. I don't have time to go into all of them now, but the bottom line is whether it is the CEDAW--the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women--or questions about his beliefs about the war in Iraq, the fact is that Dean Koh has also been questioned for allegedly supporting suits against the Bush administration's involvement in abusive interrogation techniques. Well, first of all, Dean Koh had no personal involvement in the lawsuit against John Yoo that has been mentioned, none whatsoever. Let's be clear. The State Department Legal Adviser is not charged with defending U.S. officials from legal suit or investigation of allegations of war crimes. That is the job of the Justice Department and the Defense Department.

Finally, we have heard questions about Dean Koh's respect for the role that Congress has played in crafting legislation relating to our national security. Dean Koh said at his confirmation hearing, and his words should stand:

[T]he Constitution's framework while defining the powers of Congress in Article 1 and the President in Article 2, creates a framework in which the foreign affairs power is a power shared. Checks and balances don't stop at the water's edge. It is both constitutionally required, and it is also smart in the sense that the President makes better decisions when Congress is involved. If they are in at the takeoff, they tend to be more supportive all the way through the exercise.

That is just the type of approach that we here in Congress should welcome.

While disagreements on legal and policy issues are entirely legitimate, I regret that there have been some accusations and insinuations against Dean Koh in the media that would be laughable if they weren't impugning the reputation of such a devoted public servant. Some have alleged that Dean Koh supports the imposition of Islamic Shariah law here in America. Others have actually claimed that he is against Mother's Day. Does anyone really think this President and this Secretary of State would seek legal advice from a man trying to impose Islamic law on America? Or abolish Mother's Day? That type of allegation has no place in this debate.

Fortunately, there is a chorus of voices across party lines and across American life that know the truth about Dean's Koh's record. That's why he has the support of such a long and impressive list of law professors, deans, clergy, former State Department Legal Advisers, and legal organizations.

I was heartened to see that eight Republicans voted for cloture. This sends an important message that his nomination has real bipartisan support. The words of Senator LUGAR on Dean Koh bear repeating: ``Given Dean Koh's record of service and accomplishment, his personal character, his understanding of his role as Legal Adviser, and his commitment to work closely with Congress, I support his nomination and believe he is well deserving of confirmation by the Senate.''

Senator LIEBERMAN, one of this body's strongest supporters of the war in Iraq and of Professor Koh's nomination, also put it well: ``[T]here is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Harold Hongju Koh is profoundly qualified for this position and immensely deserving of confirmation. He is not only a great scholar, he is a great American patriot, who is absolutely devoted to our nation's security and safety.''

In closing, I believe Dean Koh's own words best sum up the case for his confirmation: As he has written, ``I love this country with all my heart, not just because of what it has given me and my family, but because of what it stands for in the world: democracy, human rights, fair play, the rule of law.''

There is no stronger bipartisan voice for foreign policy or for the Constitution in the Senate than Senator Dick Lugar of Indiana, and I hope my colleagues will follow his example.

I thank our Chair.


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