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Marketplace Fairness Act of 2013 --Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. FRANKEN. Mr. President, I rise today to talk about climate change. But I first do want to say how pleased I am that we just got cloture to move to debate on the Marketplace Fairness Act. I am a strong supporter of the legislation. As I said, I am a cosponsor. I look forward to the upcoming debate. I plan to speak on this legislation further tomorrow.

Now I would like to talk about climate change. More specifically, I rise to suggest that we in this body talk more about climate change so that we can agree on taking action to address it. We need to address the environmental impacts that we are currently facing and the future impacts that will only become exponentially worse if we fail to act. 2012 was the hottest year on record in the continental United States. In fact, it beat the previous record by a full degree.

To give you some idea about how remarkable a full degree of warming in 1 year is, scientists tell us since the last ice age 20,000 years ago the Earth has warmed only 16 degrees at the most. Since we began actually measuring temperatures in the continental United States and recording them 117 years ago, the variance between the coldest year and the warmest year has only been 4.2 degrees.

So for the temperature to jump a full degree in 1 year is not just remarkable, it is alarming. Often when people consider the harmful consequences of climate change and its cost, they are talking about the future. But make no mistake, climate change is already costing the United States serious money.

2012 was a year when a historic drought caused more than 70 percent of U.S. counties to be declared disaster areas. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has estimated the drought's impact on the agricultural sector to be around $50 to $60 billion. That cost gets passed on to every American. The drought destroyed or damaged major crops all over this country, making corn and soybeans more expensive, increasing animal feed costs. So Americans are paying more for meats and other animal-based products.

The 2012 drought dramatically lowered water levels on the Mississippi River, seriously interfering with our ability to transport our agricultural goods to market to compete with those from other countries. So that barges did not run aground, shippers sent them down the Mississippi River the last few months half full, say, with soybeans, making our beans less competitive with Brazilian beans.

More and more of my conversation with Minnesota soybean growers who export over one-third of their crop focused on this very issue. Climate change is exacerbating our Nation's wildfires, and that is costing us serious money. When Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell testified before the Senate Energy Committee, I asked him about the link between forest fires and climate change. He told us that throughout the country we are seeing longer fire seasons on average by more than 30 days. Wildfires are also larger and more intense.

I asked Chief Tidwell whether scientists at the Forest Service thought that climate change was increasing the size and intensity of wildfires and extending their season. Without hesitation he said yes. The Forest Service is spending more and more of its budget fighting wildfires, now about half of its budget. Longer fire seasons and larger more intense fires are just going to eat up more of that budget.

Not only is climate change worsening our forest fires, it is also exacerbating other problems plaguing our forests. That includes a very serious bark beetle crop. The bark beetle is normally kept in check because cold winters at high altitudes kill its larva.

Let's talk about the bark beetle at high altitudes. Their larva used to freeze. But now, because of climate change, that is not happening. The winters have gotten warmer and at higher altitudes, and the bark beetles are surviving. That means they are destroying more forests.

Similarly, in some Colorado forests scientists have shown that because of warmer weather, mountain pine beetles have gone from reproducing once a year to twice a year. In a little over a decade, this mountain pine beetle has killed more than 70,000 square miles' worth of trees. That is an area equivalent to the entire State of Washington.

Of course, we cannot talk about climate change without talking about sea level rise. I serve on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Several months ago we had a hearing on sea level rise. We heard testimony about how rising sea level is increasing the size of flood zones and increasing damage that occurs from storm surges.

One of the witnesses told us that just a few extra inches of sea level could result in a storm surge that could flood the New York City subway system. It sounded like something out of science fiction. Yet a little over 6 months later that is exactly what happened. That is exactly what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and flooded the subways.

My colleagues do not need to be reminded of the cost of Hurricane Sandy. It is costing taxpayers a staggering $60 billion. Unfortunately, only one of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, the ranking member, Senator Murkowski, attended this hearing. This has been pretty much the case whenever we have a hearing that even tangentially relates to climate change.

A number of my colleagues in Congress do not believe that human activities contribute to climate change. Many others, I suspect, do not talk about climate change because addressing it requires making some difficult choices. But let's be clear about this. Climate change is already costing us. If we do not act now, it will worsen dramatically and be far more costly.

The Defense Department has studied potential threats to national security imposed by climate change. DOD's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review states that climate change may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict. That, in turn, would place burdens on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. The top commander in the Pacific, ADM Samuel Locklear, has said the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific is climate change. As the Pacific commander he understands the impact sea level rise and extreme weather events can have on our military resources and on civilian populations in the Pacific.

My constituents in Minnesota also understand the threat of climate change. That is why recently nearly 400 people gathered at a local Lutheran church in Willmar, MN, to talk about climate change. Willmar is not a big city. So when this many people gather in one place, you know it is a big deal. They are concerned about climate change and the marked increase in severe weather occurrences.

But when they look to Washington they see a disconnect. They see a disconnect between what the country is experiencing and what Washington is doing about it--or, rather, what Washington is not doing. Outside of Washington, and not just in Minnesota, things are different. In fact, many respected Republican leaders outside of Washington understand the importance of addressing climate change.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, for example, Republican Governor Chris Christie of New Jersey acknowledged that climate change is a problem and that human activities are playing a role.

Former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger of California, also a Republican, has launched an organization to fight climate change. Former Utah Governor and Republican Presidential candidate John Huntsman has noted that whenever a party takes a position that runs counter to the position of 98 out of every 100 scientists, that party has a problem.

Governor Huntsman is right. Let me illustrate with an analogy. Say you went to a doctor who told you: You know, you better start eating more sensibly and start exercising because you are tremendously overweight. I see in your file that your father died of a heart attack at an early age. So you really have to go on a diet and start working out.

You say: You know what, I would like a second opinion.

So you go to a second doctor and he examines you, or she examines you, and says: OK, look, you have a family history of heart disease. Your father died of a heart attack at 40. You weigh over 300 pounds. Your cholesterol is out of control. Your blood pressure is through the roof. It would just be irresponsible of me not to immediately send you to the Mayo Clinic to this place I know. You have to go there.

Then you say: Thanks, doctor, but I would really like a third opinion.

The third doctor says: Wow. This is a problem. You know, looking at your family history and looking at you and your tests, I am amazed you are still alive. You have to do something about this.

You say: You know, I would really like a fourth opinion--and this keeps going. It takes months. Finally, you get to the 50th doctor. The 50th doctor examines you and says: Boy, it is a good thing you came to me

because all this diet and exercise would have been a waste. You are doing just fine. Those other doctors, well, they are in the pockets of the fresh food and vegetable people. Enjoy life as much as you want and watch a lot of TV.

Then you learn this doctor was paid his salary by the makers of Cheetos. Don't get me wrong--Cheetos are a delicious snack. They can and should be eaten in moderation.

If 98 out of 100 doctors tell me I have a problem, I should take their advice. If those two other doctors are paid by "Big Snack Food'' the way certain climate deniers are paid by "Big Coal,'' I shouldn't take their advice. However, 98 out of 100 climate scientists are telling us we have a problem.

Governor Huntsman is right. Outside of Washington, many people get this. Even some of the very companies that previously funded anti-climate change efforts have turned the page on this issue. ExxonMobil used to fund the Heartland Institute, which is one of the leading climate change denial organizations. If you go to ExxonMobil's Web site today, it states, ``Rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems.'' Shell Oil states on its Web site, "CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid serious climate change.'' Even the major oil and gas companies have begun to acknowledge that climate change is real.

I respectfully suggest that my colleagues on the other side of the aisle here in Congress also need to engage in a serious conversation on climate change. At a time when Americans are dealing with record droughts and devastating hurricanes, the Senate cannot afford to simply ignore climate change. We need to talk about this, as Democratic and Republican leaders outside of Washington are talking about it. Ultimately, we need to come together to address climate change before its damaging costs to society are out of control.

I do not pretend this will be easy. Some people will point out that climate change is a global problem. It is. We can't solve it alone. We can't, and they are right. Emissions in the developing world are now on the rise. China surpasses the United States in total greenhouse gas emissions--not per capita; we are still ahead on that. But China is also making major investment in renewable energy. According to the United Nations Environmental Program, in 2011 China led the world in renewable energy investments, with nearly one-fifth of the global total. This is in spite of the fact that China's GDP in 2011 was half of our GDP. If we are going to lead the clean energy race and create good-paying jobs for Americans, we must invest in our renewable energy infrastructure.

Last year the Senate Energy Committee heard testimony regarding a report from the American Energy Innovation Council's report entitled "Catalyzing Ingenuity.'' The report, authored by former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, Microsoft founder Bill Gates, and other business leaders, states:

The country has yet to embark on a clean energy innovation program commensurate with the scale of the national priorities that are at stake. In fact, rather than improve the country's energy innovation program and invest in strategic national interests, the current political environment is creating strong pressure to pull back from such efforts.

This is very important. I encourage my colleagues--especially those who oppose Federal funding for clean energy--to read this report because what people often forget is that this is nothing new. Government has always supported strategic energy priorities. As Mr. Augustine noted in his testimony, commercial nuclear power was the result of government investments in naval reactors. Do you know why natural gas is transforming our energy sector today? It is because of years of Federal support to develop hydrofracking technology. The Eastern Gas Shales Project was an initiative the Federal Government began back in 1976, before hydrofracking was a mature industry. The project set up and funded dozens of pilot demonstration projects with universities and private gas companies that tested drilling and fracturing methods. This investment by the Federal Government was instrumental in the development of the commercial extraction of natural gas from shale. In fact, microseismic imaging--a critical tool used in fracking--was originally developed by Sandia National Laboratory, a Federal energy laboratory.

The industry was also supported through tax breaks and subsidies. In fact, Mitchell Energy vice president Dan Stewart said in an interview that Mitchell Energy's first horizontal well was subsidized by the Federal Government. Mr. Mitchell said of the Department of Energy:

DOE started it, and other people took the ball and ran with it. You cannot diminish DOE's involvement.

So the basis of the natural gas revolution that is helping make America more energy independent can be traced back to Federal support. In the same way, we must support the renewable energy sector now. We need to be the ones--our country, the United States, Americans--we must be the ones who sell this transformative and environmentally friendly technology to other nations. We must do this.

We need to start by having a conversation about climate change. It would be irresponsible to avoid the issue because it is uncomfortable to talk about. The stakes are too high and we would be shirking our responsibility to our constituents, to our children, to our grandchildren, and to posterity. The discussion is not going to be easy because there are going to be painful tradeoffs. I certainly don't have all the answers. I do know we need to have the conversation. We cannot leave this issue to future generations. I have a grandchild on the way--my first. I don't want to look back and tell him that when his grandfather was in a position to do something about climate change, he chose not to because it involved some politically difficult choices. I don't want to tell him that we compromised our moral integrity for political expediency.

We all have constituents who care about this issue. When I go back to Willmar, MN, I want to tell my constituents who met in a church and spoke about climate change that we heard them. I want to tell them we are working together across the aisle to talk about and address one of the most difficult problems we face.

I invite my colleagues to join in this endeavor and make dealing with climate change a bipartisan issue. We owe it to the Nation and to future generations.

I yield the floor.


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