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Department of Defense, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs, and Full-Year Continuing Appropriations Act, 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BOXER. Mr. President, I have come to the floor to talk about a very important issue called climate change or climate disruption.

Before I do, I wish to address the issue my colleague has raised. He did not want to stop debate on the continuing resolution bill because he wanted to offer an amendment to ensure we cut somewhere as well as keep the FAA able to keep open air traffic control towers.

As someone who fought a partial government shutdown which shut down the FAA, my friends on the Republican side--my friend wasn't here then--I can tell you I was instrumental in making sure we passed that FAA authorization bill. It was a great bill.

It breaks my heart to see this sequester in action. This is not the way to govern.

I respect my colleague's point of view. He has a right to his opinion, but to say this is the only opportunity to stop the sequester is absolutely incorrect. The President has said he is ready to sit down with the Republicans, pass a balanced plan which would fix the sequester, get the FAA back up to snuff, take care of all of our problems which were caused because of the sequester, deficit reduction, and balance our budget. If this happens, this sequester will end not only for the FAA--my friend is right, this is ridiculous--but for the 70,000 children who are being cut out of Head Start. Why isn't there more discussion about that when we know every dollar invested in a child in Head Start saves $10 because they get that head start in life?

Where is the outrage of the 421,000 fewer HIV tests? This is a public health emergency when 421,000 people can't get their HIV test. They don't know if they are HIV positive and could spread the virus. This is what is happening with this sequester.

There are 10,500 teacher positions lost and 2,700 will lose title I funds, which amounts to 1 million children who will lose special reading help because of the sequester.

I think we all agree the sequester is no way to govern. We can get to a balanced budget without a sequester. We did that under Bill Clinton. We had a balanced approach. We made investments in our people, we cut out unnecessary spending, and we had a fair Tax Code.

I could go on with the problems. There are 25,000 fewer women who will not receive breast cancer screening. I could offer an amendment on that. I want to offer an amendment on that. I understand we need to keep the government running, and that is what this continuing resolution does.

I praise the Republicans on the other side who crossed over to vote with Democrats. Thank you very much for seeing we can't turn this bill into everyone's favorite amendment to restore something which is cut because of the sequester, which none of us ever thought was going to move forward.

I want to repeat this. My friend speaks about the FAA. I agree with him. I hope he would agree with me on Head Start, on teachers, on title I, on HIV tests, and on breast cancer screenings. What about the $540 million which is cut from the Small Business Administration loan program which is so critical to our small businesses and job creation? There are 600,000 children losing their nutrition assistance because of the sequester.

Let's all agree. The sequester is bad, and we need to stop it. Why not do it in the right way, which is to sit down with the President, ensure we can get the deficit reduction the sequester is bringing in in a better way. He is offering this. He is offering a balanced plan. All of these cries about, oh, they are cutting this, that, and the other--it is all bad. Sequester is not the way to budget or to govern.

We have 1 week to keep this government open. The House has told us not to start a series of amendments or we are never going to be able to keep the government open. Let's do our work and keep this as clean as we can. Let's make sure we all listen to our President, who was reelected in a huge victory. He said he wanted to move us toward balance with a balanced plan, cuts in spending, new revenues. Patty Murray's budget, the Democratic budget, does that.

I am very pleased we are moving toward keeping this government open. This is the basic thing we need to do--keep this simple and move on.

As you know, I am the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. It is a joy for me to have that job, truly. My whole life I have cared about environment and about infrastructure. The way the Senate works, they put those two together. Not only am I able to speak about clean air, safe drinking water, cleaning up Superfund sites, and protecting the health of our families, but I also get to talk about jobs which are created when we build roads, highways, and water systems.

There is something which does not bring us together on that committee, and that is the issue of climate change. What I have decided to do is come down to the floor every Monday possible when the floor is available to speak a few minutes about the devastating consequences of unchecked climate disruption. I wish to discuss and put into the Record every week the latest scientific information. On March 4 I began these talks and spoke about a front-page story in USA Today which spotlights the impacts of climate change unfolding around us. The story is the first in a year-long series called ``Why You Should Sweat Climate Change.'' It describes how climate disruption is happening all around us. Last week I discussed a report entitled ``The 2013 High Risk List,'' which was a GAO study, Government Accountability Office study, which said climate disruption is leading to intense weather events, such as Superstorm Sandy, which threaten, our Nation and the finances of our Nation.

Plus, I told colleagues of an Oregon State study which appeared in Science which said that we have had the warmest decade in over 11,000 years--the warmest decade in over 11,000 years. Now, not 11 years, not 1,100 years, but 11,000 years. So Earth to my Republican colleagues, please wake up to this fact and let's do something about it.

Today I want to talk about the impact of unchecked climate change on the health of our people. This is a statement made by Dr. Cecil Wilson--and let's look at this chart--the former president of the AMA, the American Medical Association:

The scientific evidence clearly indicates that our climate is changing, air pollution is increasing, weather is becoming more extreme, and with these changes come public health consequences.

That is why our President made a finding there actually is a danger to public health. It is called an endangerment finding for a reason. It is putting our people in danger. Wake up, colleagues. Please, wake up before it is too late.

The fact is the Bush administration found--and we got this through documentation--that climate change was a threat. The CIA has found that climate change is a threat. The defense establishment has found that climate change is a threat. The only place that doesn't seem to get excited about it is right here, in a bipartisan way, in the Senate.

Again, we know temperatures are continuing to increase. The Draft National Climate Assessment of January 11, 2013, said this:

Heat caused by climate disruption is especially harmful to our children.

Now I want to talk to colleagues who might just be listening. They might not be because it is 7:20 at night, but if they are, you all say you want to protect our kids. You all love your children and your grandchildren and your nieces and your nephews. This is according to the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee--and I think we have a chart on that:

Anticipated direct health consequences of climate change include injury and death from extreme weather events and natural disasters, increases in climate-sensitive infectious diseases, increases in air pollution-related illness, and more heat-related, potentially fatal illness. Within all of these categories, children have increased vulnerability compared with other groups.

Again, I say to my colleagues, if we were sent here to do anything, it is to protect the health and safety of our children, for goodness' sakes, and they are one of the most vulnerable groups if we don't act on climate change. And if that doesn't move you, I say to my friends, what about the elderly? They are particularly vulnerable. This is from the Draft National Climate Assessment.

Older people are at much higher risk of dying during extreme heat events. Preexisting health conditions also make the elderly susceptible to cardiac and respiratory impacts of air pollution and to more severe consequences from infectious diseases.

So if I didn't touch your heart with your kids and grandkids, how about your grandmas, your grandpas, your great-grandmas, and your great-grandpas. They also are terribly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Laurence Kalkstein, a University of Miami professor, who studies the effects of heat on health, said:

Climate change is a silent killer. Heat can cause fatalities among even the fittest.

It is a silent killer. And he knows because he studies the impact of heat on our health.

So let's not be silent. Maybe climate change is a silent killer, but we can't be silent in the face of the information we have. Continuing to quote Laurence Kalkstein:

The warming planet can cause many other serious health problems that are harmful to our families. Scientists predict they will get worse.

Scientists believe it will only get worse. Listen to what they say:

Heatwaves are also associated with increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney and respiratory disorders. Extreme summer heat is increasing in the U.S., and climate projections indicate that extreme heat events will be much more frequent and intense in coming decades.

Is this the future we want for our people, increased hospital admissions for cardiovascular, kidney, and respiratory disorders? I think not. But, boy, part of me thinks so. I can't seem to get anybody excited about this in the Senate.

You might ask me why that is? I have my theories. There is a lot of power on the other side. There is a lot of power on the other side--people who don't want to move off coal, people who don't want to move off oil. There is a lot of power on the other side.

The increase in temperatures can lead to respiratory illnesses associated with air pollution, such as asthma. Have you ever seen a child with asthma gasping for breath? I say to my colleagues, asthma is a leading cause of hospital admissions for kids at school. I go around and visit the schools, and I ask a simple question: How many of you kids have asthma or know someone with asthma? Almost 50 percent of the room has hands up.

If you saw a child gasping for air on the street, you would hold them close, you would calm them down, you would get them oxygen, you would do everything in your power. You would call 9-1-1, you would take them to the hospital, you would sit by their side, you would hold their hand, you would nurse them back to health.

We have a situation, folks, where climate disruption is going to bring us more cases of asthma. Let's not stand with the giant polluters. Let's move to clean energy. Let's clean up our act and save our children, save our grandparents.

We are not talking about a remote possibility sometime in the near future. Climate disruption is here. It is happening before our eyes. More American children are getting asthma and allergies, more seniors are suffering from heat strokes. And let me tell you about what is happening in New York right now. They are seeing indications that extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy are linked to health problems.

They have already given a name to a cough that has developed in that part of the country known locally as the Rockaway cough because it is in Rockaway. The Rockaway Peninsula on Long Island, NY, was devastated by Sandy.

Lives were lost, homes and businesses were destroyed, and now local residents are experiencing health problems from the flooding--coughing, which is a common symptom, health officials said, that could come from mold or the haze of dust and sand kicked up by the storm and demolitions. Governor Cuomo said they are seeing these so-called 100-year storms--supposed to come once in 100 years--all the time.

I say to my colleagues: Wake up to the truth. Look out the window. Figure it out.

Look at this. Is this what we want to see in our country?

I was speaking to Senator Warren about what happened recently, and I was shocked to see houses in Massachusetts on the beach, beautiful homes, being totally razed and taken away because the ocean is moving so close they can't stay there. It is happening before our eyes. Right here.

With the haze of dust and sand kicked up by the storm and demolitions, the air in the Rockaways is so full of particles the traffic police wear masks, though many recovery workers do not, and that worries people who recall the fallout of another disaster.

Another real threat we are seeing more and more in the West is wildfires. Wildfire smoke contains dangerous compounds. Why do we see this? The droughts that are coming. Smoke exposure increases respiratory and cardiovascular hospitalizations, emergency department visits for asthma, bronchitis, chest pain, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, respiratory infections, and medical visits for lung illnesses, and has been associated with hundreds of thousands of global deaths annually.

That is the bad news. Now, if I stopped here, I wouldn't sleep very well tonight, having gone through all this. But there is good news. We can take steps now to address climate change, and those steps will benefit public health. We have an opportunity to turn this crisis into a win-win situation. When we reduce carbon pollution from powerplants to address climate disruption, we reduce dangerous air pollutants, such as soot and toxic metals that are harmful to our health.

Here is a chart: Policies and other strategies intended to reduce carbon pollution and mitigate climate change can often have independent influences on human health. For example, when you reduce carbon emissions, you reduce air pollutants, such as particles and sulfur dioxides.

We call that cobenefits, Mr. President. When you go after one kind of pollution--carbon pollution--you get the cobenefits of going after the soot, the small particles that lodge in our lungs. So we know when we reduce carbon emissions, we reduce those small particles and sulfur dioxide.

Here is the other good news. As we move away from the very dirty power sources of, what I hope will be, the past, and we move toward clean energy, we help our families' budgets because we move away from polluting automobiles. I drive a hybrid, a plug-in hybrid car. I have to tell you, it is pretty amazing. I get the first 12 miles on electricity, and if I do a few chores and come home and plug the car in again, then when I go past the 12 miles, it goes to a hybrid, which is part gas, part electric. So overall I am getting about 150 miles to the gallon. You know what. That feels pretty good when you don't have to stop and fill up your car all the time and get the sweats because of what it costs to fill up that car.

President Obama and my colleague Senator Feinstein, and my former colleague Senator Snowe, I have to compliment them because in a bipartisan way they moved us toward fuel efficiency. So we are moving toward 50-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency, and that will help us. But we have to do more.

We have to do more because the health costs associated with climate change are heartbreaking and expensive. Taking steps to reduce carbon pollution will lower our doctors' bills when we don't have kids wheezing and gasping for air. The evidence is clear: Climate change is a public health threat.

We have moved before when we have seen threats to public health. We did it on cigarettes. I was here when the Congress voted to ban smoking on airplanes. Let me tell you, that was a hard vote. We had all the money of the cigarette and tobacco companies against us. And I want to compliment Senators Lautenberg and Durbin. Senator Durbin was in the House. This was a long time ago, but I can tell you what it was like because I do so much travel across the country.

Mr. President, I would get off the plane where there was smoking, and I would reek of smoke. You felt it all over, and you certainly were breathing it in. It was unhealthy. Everyone said it would never happen; that we would never, ever ban smoking on the airlines. But guess what. We did the right thing.

Now some people say: Well, how do you know that human activity and the kinds of power we are using, the dirty oil and so on, the coal, is causing this? Let me tell you how I know. Because 98 percent of the scientists tell me so.

People say, what if they are wrong. Ninety-eight percent of the scientists agree that human activity is causing this climate disruption. If you stand with the 2 percent, you are standing with the 2 percent who said smoking never caused lung cancer. I would say, if we went to the doctor and the doctor looked at us and said there is a 98-percent chance if you don't change your eating habits or your smoking habits you are going to die an early death, you would say, 98 percent chance? OK, I will change my ways. Well, 98 percent of the scientists are telling us to change our ways when it comes to carbon pollution.

How do we do that in a way that is smart? We have several bills to put a price on carbon. We have the Sanders-Boxer bill. We have the Whitehouse bill. There will be other bills. Once we put a price on carbon, it makes sense because we are factoring in the true cost of carbon pollution, which I just explained is enormous in public health alone and economics related to superstorms and the rest.

So we need to put a price on carbon. What Bernie Sanders and I do is we take the funds that come in from that and we give it right back to the people and say: Here is a check, and now you can pay for your new clean energy. It is kind of capping the carbon and giving a dividend to the people. With the rest of the money we lower the deficit, we invest in solar rooftops, and a little bit in solar transportation. It is the way to go.

Some say wait. We can't wait. We wasted 8 long years when George W. Bush was President. Do you know why? He said carbon pollution wasn't covered in the Clean Air Act. All one had to do was read the Clean Air Act. I am not an attorney, but it is right there. It says, in essence, here are the following pollutants that are covered, and it listed greenhouse gas emissions. But, oh, no. He took it all the way to the Supreme Court and wasted 8 long years while the problem got worse and worse.

So here is the deal. Here is a quote from Washington School of Public Health, University of Washington, Dr. Howard Frumkin, who says:

In public health, when faced with threats to entire populations, we act. For infectious diseases, we vaccinate.

If 98 percent of the doctors say vaccinate to prevent illness, there is always 2 percent who are going to say don't do it. But we go with 98 percent.

For lung cancer, we ban smoking.

We didn't stand with the doctors who were paid off by big tobacco. We stood with the doctors who had an independent judgment, and we banned smoking on airplanes and in close quarters and in the Senate cloakroom and all the other places in government buildings.

For injuries, we install seat belts and air bags.

Another big battle. Remember that battle? The auto companies said: We don't want to spend the money installing airbags or seatbelts. We said: You have to do it. You know what. It is worth the cost, and so many lives are saved.

For obesity, we promote physical activity and healthier eating.

The First Lady has taken this on as a cause and we are starting to see a change. We have a long way to go. Why do that? Because we know the connection between obesity and diabetes and heart disease and stroke. So even though it is a difficult issue, we have tackled it.

For climate change, we need to act.

We surely do. I am talking to pretty much an empty Chamber, but I am glad the Presiding Officer is here, and I feel a few people are watching. It is good. But there are a few of us who are determined to keep on bringing the facts to the floor of the Senate. Everyone has the right to act or not act, but I believe we need to make the record now, because when my grandchildren grow up, I want them to look back and say: Wow. That was great what grandma's generation did. They took care of this issue. I don't want them to look back and say: What were they thinking? What was wrong with them? Why didn't they act when they could have made a difference?

So next week I will be back. I will be talking about national security threats. This is one of the biggest national security threats we face. That doesn't come from me. That comes from the Pentagon. It comes from the CIA. It comes from the national security teams. So we can just close our eyes to this and we can wish it goes away, but it is not going away or we can ease the pain of climate disruption by moving to clean energy, energy efficiency, and we will face a win-win as we eventually have better public health, save money, and save the planet.


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