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Family and Business Tax Cut Certainty Act of 2012--Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, I am here on the floor again today, as I try to be every week, to speak about the continuing effects of carbon pollution on our planet, on our climate, and on our oceans. We have been away for the August recess, so it has been a while since I have done that.

August has been somewhat eventful. We have had two party conventions, and we have had continued news about what is happening to our climate and to our world.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported that July was the hottest month ever in the contiguous United States in their 118 years of keeping records. According to NOAA's State of the Climate reports, nearly 63 percent of the country experienced moderate to exceptional drought in July and August. It is affecting all sorts of folks--farmers, obviously. Unexpectedly high spring temperatures, for instance, decimated the tart cherry production in northwest Michigan where 75 percent of the country's tart cherries are grown. Freezing weather, followed by a warmer than usual spring, destroyed the cherry buds, and more than 90 percent of that crop was lost. Grapes and peaches and apple harvests were also affected. Losses from this are estimated at $210 million, making this year the worst year on the books for Michigan fruit, just to give one example.

Electricity generation, of all things, was also affected. Over the weekend, a Washington Post article documented electricity-generating facilities are struggling to supply consistent levels of electric generation because of these drought conditions. Lake Mead, Hoover Dam's reservoir, fell 103 feet below its targeted capacity. Low water levels have hindered barge transport of coal up the Mississippi River. Eight coal-fired and nuclear power plants in Illinois needed special permission to discharge cooling water that exceeded their Federal clean water permit ceiling of 90 degrees.

NASA scientist James Hansen published a study last month concluding that the 2011 heat waves in Texas and in Oklahoma, as well as the heat wave at that time in Russia, were likely caused by climate change--by the carbon pollution that we are emitting--with the analysis that what the carbon pollution in our climate does is to load the climate dice in favor of more and more extreme storms and extreme conditions like these heat waves.

Last week, the University of Colorado's National Snow and Ice Data Center and NASA announced together that Arctic Sea ice has reached a record low of 1.58 million square miles--nearly 70,000 square miles smaller than the previous modern low. Of course, there are still weeks to go in the melting season, and so it will be a lower record than that.

In the past three decades the annual average temperatures have increased twice as much over the Arctic as over the rest of the world. The Arctic is really the leading edge for the climate changes that are occurring as a result of our carbon pollution. The average extent of the Arctic Sea ice has declined by 25 to 30 percent, and the rate of that decline is accelerating. Habitats are changing, extreme weather is increasing, species are moving, oceans are warming and rising, and Republicans and special interests are denying. They insist on keeping their heads in the sand. In this case, given the source of much of the denial propaganda, it is probably safe to say that they have their heads in the oil sands.

The conventions that took place over August were instructive. I believe history will look back at the Republican Convention as a disgrace of climate denial in the face of the mounting facts. By contrast, President Obama pointed out clearly, simply, and plainly that carbon pollution is heating our planet, that climate change is not a hoax, that more droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke, that they are a threat to our children's future. I applaud the President for his leadership in this way.

He was not the only Democratic leader to touch on this issue. Senator Kerry--who gave a brilliant and passionate speech on the floor before the August recess--in his remarks said this:

Despite what you heard in Tampa, an exceptional country does care about the rise of the oceans and the future of the planet. That is a responsibility from the Scriptures. And that, too, is a responsibility of the leader of the free world.

President Clinton, in his wonderful magisterial speech, lauded the agreement the Obama administration made with the management, labor, and environmental groups to double car mileage. He pointed out:

That was a good deal. It will make us more energy independent. It will cut greenhouse gas emissions. And according to several analyses, over the next 20 years, it'll bring another half a million good new jobs into the American economy.

Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts reminded us of the Romney who understood climate change, who said he was for climate change--I think he meant he was doing something about climate change--back when he was Governor of Massachusetts. He reminded us: Now there's a Romney who believes it is a myth.

Secretary Ken Salazar, who served with real distinction in the Senate, said of the deniers:

Mock our sacred responsibility as stewards of God's Earth. Their attitude isn't just sad; it's reckless and it's backward.

Tom Steyer is the cofounder of Advanced Energy Economy. He said this about Governor Romney:

Governor Romney's road to the future will lead to dirty air and increasing climate volatility, uncertainty over energy prices and less security, not more.

He contrasted that with President Obama. ``President Obama's road to the future,'' he said, ``will lead us to energy independence, energy security, a safer and cleaner environment, and countless new jobs that can never be outsourced.''

And as silent and mocking as the Republican convention and the Republican candidate were on this issue, they have doubled down since then. Over the weekend on ``Meet the Press,'' Mr. Romney restated that he is ``not in this race to slow the rise of the oceans or to heal the planet.'' His energy plan makes no mention whatsoever of climate change or of promoting renewable energy technology. Instead, it details how the United States can exploit what the platform calls the domestic ``cornucopia of carbon-based energy resources.''

Our platform makes it clear that we take this seriously.

We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation--an economic, environmental and national security catastrophe in the making. We affirm the science of climate change, commit to significantly reducing the pollution that causes climate change, and know we have to meet this challenge by driving smart policies that lead to greater growth in clean energy generation and result in a range of economic and social benefits.

In our national security platform we state:

The national security threat from climate change is real, urgent and severe. The change wrought by a warming planet will lead to new conflicts over refugees and resources; new suffering from drought and famine; catastrophic natural disasters and the degradation of vital ecosystems across the globe.

By contrast, the Republican platform calls on Congress to take quick action to prohibit the EPA from moving forward with new greenhouse gas regulations.

We are at history's junction, as shown by these two conventions and these two platforms. The Republicans would take us back into the past on a tide of propaganda and denial to serve the special interests of the polluters. The Obama administration would take us forward to compete successfully in the world for clean energy innovation, clean energy technology, and clean energy jobs. It would allow us to meet our responsibility to our children and grandchildren to leave them a world as good as the one that was left to us. And it would, in addition, show that this great experiment in human liberty, the United States of America, this great democracy, is not for sale.

The findings that we made in our platform I will quote again: ``We know that global climate change is one of the biggest threats of this generation ..... and we affirm the science of climate change'' follows the very strong findings of the American scientific community, indeed the world scientific community. Back in October 2009, a letter from a coalition of respected scientific organizations said this:

Observations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver. These conclusions are based on multiple independent lines of evidence, and contrary assertions are inconsistent with an objective assessment of the vast body of peer-reviewed science.

These were esteemed organizations: American Chemical Society, American Meteorological Society, American Society of Agronomy, Botanical Society of America, and many others. They do not think the jury is out on this question. They know that in fact the verdict is in and we now have a responsibility to ourselves and to the future to act.

Recently, Dr. Richard Muller, a converted climate skeptic, released findings from his research--which was, ironically, partially funded by the Koch brothers--that the Earth's land temperature has increased by 2.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years and 1.5 degrees of that over the past 50 years. He states, ``moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.''

Another benchmark was a monitoring station in the Arctic that measured carbon dioxide at 400 parts per million for the first time. This is 50 parts per million higher than the maximum contraction of carbon in the atmosphere at which scientists predict a stable climate, and it is well outside the 170 parts per million to 370 parts per million range for carbon in our atmosphere that has persisted for the last 8,000 centuries.

Essentially all of human development has taken place within a range of 170 to 300 parts per million in our atmosphere and we just broke, in the Arctic, 400 parts per million for the first time. We are not just off the road and over the chatter strip. We are way out of history's line.

Again, we are at a junction in history. I urge we go forward, that we drive our country toward successful competition for a clean energy future, that we meet our responsibility to our children and our grandchildren, and that we prove to ourselves and to the rest of the world that our great American experiment in human liberty is not for sale to the polluting industries.

I yield the floor.


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