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Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2013

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, American summertime is when we celebrate and commemorate the patriots who fought to establish and protect this great Republic. From Memorial Day through Independence Day and on to Veterans Day, communities across this country turn out star-spangled bunting and gather for parades, cookouts, and wreath layings to reflect on the heroes and events that embody our Nation's great spirit.

June in Rhode Island is marked by the annual celebration of Gaspee Days, when we recognize and celebrate one of the earliest acts of defiance against the British Crown in our American struggle for independence. Most Americans remember and I know the Presiding Senator from Massachusetts certainly is well aware of the Boston Tea Party when, in fact, literally spirited Bostonians clamored onto the decks of the East India Company's ships and dumped tea bags into Boston Harbor to protest British taxation without representation.

I am sure throwing tea bags into the harbor is a very big deal, but there was another milestone in the path to the Revolutionary War that is too often overlooked. It is the story of 60 brave Rhode Islanders who, more than a year before the Tea Party in Boston, risked their lives in defiance of oppression more than 240 years ago and drew the first blood in what became the revolutionary conflict.

In the years before the Revolutionary War, one of the most notorious of the armed customs vessels patrolling Rhode Island's Narragansett Bay, imposing the authority of the British Crown, was Her Majesty's ship Gaspee. The ship and its captain, Lieutenant William Dudingston, were known for destroying fishing vessels, seizing cargo, and flagging down ships only to harass, humiliate, and interrogate the colonials.

A 100-year-old report says:

This unprincipled ruffian had ruthlessly ravaged the Rhode Island coast for several months, destroying unoffending fishing vessels, and confiscating everything he could lay hands on. The attack on the ``Gaspe' '' caused the first bloodshed in the struggle for American independence, and was the first resistance to the British navy.

How did it come about? Well, on June 9, 1772, Rhode Island ship captain Benjamin Lindsey was en route to Providence from Newport, sailing in his packet sloop the Hannah, when he was accosted and ordered to yield for inspection by the Gaspee. Captain Lindsey had had enough of the Gaspee. He ignored the command and raced up Narragansett Bay, ignoring warning shots fired at him by the Gaspee. As the Gaspee gave chase, Captain Lindsey--who was a wily Rhode Island ship captain--realized that his ship was lighter and drew less water than the Gaspee, so he sped north toward Pawtuxet Cove, toward the shallows off of Namquid Point. The Hannah shot over these shallows, but the heavier Gaspee grounded and stuck firm. The British ship and her crew were caught stranded in a falling tide and would need to wait many hours for a rising tide to free the hulking Gaspee.

Captain Lindsey continued on his way to Providence and rallied a group of Rhode Island patriots at Sabin's Tavern. Together, the group resolved to put an end to the Gaspee's menace to Rhode Island waters. They may have shared one thing with their Boston compatriots: They may have been spirited themselves.

That night the men embarked down Narragansett Bay in eight longboats with muffled oars. They encircled the stranded Gaspee and called on Lieutenant Dudingston to surrender his ship. Dudingston refused and ordered his men to fire on anyone who tried to board. The Rhode Islanders forced their way onto the Gaspee's deck, and in the struggle Lieutenant Dudingston was wounded, shot with a musket ball. Right there in the waters off Warwick, RI, the very first blood in the conflict that was to become the American Revolution thus was drawn.

The brave patriots took the captive Englishmen ashore and returned to the Gaspee to rid Narragansett Bay of her noxious presence once and for all. Near daylight on June 10, they set her afire. The blaze spread to the ship's powder magazine, and the resulting blast echoed across Narragansett Bay as airborne fragments of this former ship splashed down into the water.

The incident prompted a special commission instructed by King George III to deliver any persons indicted in the burning of the Gaspee to the Royal Navy for transport to England for trial and execution.

Samuel Adams, in a letter published in the Newport Mercury on December 21, 1772, and reprinted in the Providence Gazette on December 26, called it ``a court of inquisition, more horrid than that of Spain or Portugal. The persons who are the commissioners of this new-fangled court are vested with most exorbitant and unconstitutional power.'' A few days later he wrote that ``an Attack upon the Liberties of one Colony is an Attack upon the Liberties of all; and therefore in this Instance all should be ready to yield Assistance to Rhode Island.''

In a letter to a friend in Rhode Island, John Adams, the future President, summed up the tension felt across the Colonies:

``We are all in a fury here about ..... the Commission for trying the Rhode Islanders for Burning the Gaspee. I wonder how your Colony happens to sleep so securely in a whole skin, when her sisters are so worried and tormented.''

King George III offered a handsome reward for information leading to the arrest of those responsible for the burning and destruction of his revenue cutter. But Rhode Islanders are a loyal bunch--the reward went unclaimed.

The site of Rhode Island's opening salvo in the American Revolution is now named Gaspee Point. The annual Gaspee Days celebration has grown to span several weeks each June and includes an arts and crafts festival, a walking tour with students playing the roles of Colonialists, an encampment of local militia, a parade down Narragansett Parkway in Warwick, and, of course, a mock burning of the HMS Gaspee.

My friend, State Representative Joe McNamara, and the Gaspee Days Committee work each year to make these events the best they can be and to remind our State and Nation of the bravery of those few dozen souls. Indeed, this year another Rhode Islander Mark Tracy, a pediatric neurologist at Hasbro Children's Hospital, was able to acquire original news stories from 1772 that related this incident and gave them to the Gaspee Committee. I will note that he was able to get them rather inexpensively because ``the auction house concentrated on describing the batches of newspapers--from the estate of an unnamed Providence collector--in terms of the coming Boston Tea Party and other events,'' paying no attention to the fact that Rhode Island's greater act and prior act was actually enclosed and described in these newspapers.

This summer will also mark another historic anniversary for Rhode Island because it was in July of 1663--350 years ago this summer--that King Charles II granted a royal charter establishing the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations.

``To hold forth a lively experiment,'' it declared ``that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained ..... with a full liberty in religious concernments.''

This charter provided in Rhode Island the world's first formal establishment of freedom of religion, distinguishing us from the rigid theocracy of Massachusetts, I am sorry to say, where ideological conformity was enforced by the gallows and the lash.

This charter has been called America's Magna Carta, for it is the first formal document in all of history granting the separation of church and state, along with extraordinary freedoms of speech, to a political entity. This ``lively experiment'' in Rhode Island blazed a path for American freedom of religion, one of our greatest national blessings. And, more practically, this liberty also allowed trading networks of Quakers and Baptists and Jews to connect in Newport and created their abundant wealth and commerce.

That freedom of religion, that freedom of conscience was the great legacy of Rhode Island's founder Roger Williams, who had been banished from Massachusetts for his beliefs about religious tolerance. Williams established his new colony as ``a shelter for persons,'' as he said, ``distressed for conscience.'' His battle for freedom of conscience, won and reflected in the King Charles Charter, is the reason his statue stands right out there, outside the Chamber of the Senate.

I know these events and the patriots whose efforts allowed for their success are not forgotten in my home State. This summer we will gather in these ways to celebrate Rhode Island's independent streak. We will recall the courage and zeal of these men and women who embodied those most American values--freedom of conscience and freedom from tyranny, values that ignited a revolution in the summer of 1776.

I yield the floor.

I suggest the absence of a quorum.


Mr. WHITEHOUSE. Madam President, the last week we were here, I gave my weekly ``Time To Wake Up'' speech, as usual. It is a speech I wrote well earlier. In a truly and, unfortunately, almost eerie coincidence, in my speech last week I spoke about a variety of natural disasters, including--and I will quote my own speech--``cyclones in Oklahoma.'' I said that in the same hour the cyclone touched down in Moore, OK.

When people are suffering in the wake of a calamity such as that, they need to hear one thing from Washington; that is, how can we help. That is all they need to hear. No one likes to be chided when what they need is help and comfort.

J.E. Reynolds of the Daily Oklahoman wrote: ``Victims and survivors need help, not a sermon in the first hours following a storm.'' I agree. I agree very much. My thoughts are with the victims of those Oklahoma storms and with everyone who is working to pick up the pieces.

Far from seeking to exploit their tragedy, I had no idea of the weather in Oklahoma that was happening virtually at the time I gave the speech, mentioning Oklahoma cyclones among other examples of extreme weather. But the eerie timing was what it was, and it did not send that single simple message: How can we help? So I am sorry. I have apologized to my Oklahoma colleagues for the unfortunate coincidence of timing of my earlier remarks, and I, of course, stand ready to help them speed relief to their State.

It is, of course, impossible to say that any single weather event is caused by climate change, and that is not something I have ever said. What is true is that climate change is altering weather patterns. Scientists have studied these changes in weather patterns, and they have modeled what is to come. Most are convinced that increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather will be a result of the megatons of carbon pollution we continue to emit.

The way I have described it is that climate change ``loads the dice'' for extreme weather. We might not know which roll is caused by the loaded dice. We are going to get a 6 or a 7 or a 12 or a 2 sooner or later anyway, but the extreme weather will come more often because of this. We cannot pretend this isn't happening. We just hit 400 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere, measured at the NOAA observatory on Mauna Loa in Hawaii.

What does 400 parts per million mean? Well, look at it this way: For at least 800,000 years, and perhaps millions, we have been in a range on Earth between 170 and 300 parts per million of carbon in our atmosphere--800,000 years, minimum. Homo sapiens as a species have only been around for about 200,000 years, but just since the industrial revolution and the ``Great Carbon Dump'' began, we have blown out of the 170- to 300-parts-per-million range and have now hit 400.

This is very serious. We already see the effects. In Alaska, permafrost is melting and native villages once protected by winter ice are being eroded into the sea. In the Carolinas, roads to the Outer Banks have to be raised as seas rise and storms worsen. Coral reefs are fading off in Florida and in the Caribbean. In Rhode Island, we have measured almost 10 inches of sea level rise since the 1930s. Rhode Island fishermen going out to sea from Point Judith are reporting ``real anomalies ..... things just aren't making sense.''

All of these effects from climate change hit our farmers too. Since before the founding of this Republic, our farmers have relied on the Sun, the rain, and the land to provide us their bounty. In 2011, farming and the industries that rely directly on agriculture accounted for almost 5 percent of the entire U.S. economy. But growing conditions in the United States are changing. More and more of our rainfall is coming in heavy downpours. Since 1991, the amount of rain falling in what scientists call ``extreme precipitation events''--the amount of rain falling in extreme precipitation events has been above the 1901-to-1960 average in every region of the country.

In the Northeast where I am from extreme precipitation has increased 74 percent just between 1958 and 2010. That matters to our farmers. The very seasons are shifting. During the last two decades, the average frost-free season was about 10 days longer than during that period between 1901 and 1960. In the Southwest it is an astonishing 3 weeks longer. That matters to our farmers.

Average temperature in the contiguous United States has increased by about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit since records began in 1895. Most of that increase occurred since the 1980s, and 2012 was the warmest year ever. That matters to our farmers.

This chart shows the extent of the U.S. drought in August of 2012. The red and the dark areas indicate extreme and exceptional drought. These conditions lasted most of the year. That matters to our farmers.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Chief Economist Joseph Glauber testified before the Agriculture Committee that ``the heat and rainfall deficit conditions that characterized the summer of 2012 were well outside the range of normal weather variation.'' That is precisely what scientists mean when they say climate change ``loads the dice'' for extreme weather.

Climate change doesn't cause specific heat waves but the average temperature shifts to warmer weather and the extremes move with it.

The New York Botanical Garden has seen apricot trees blossom in February. The Audubon Society of Rhode Island has reported cherry trees in Providence blooming as early as December. This could affect farmers too.

Jeff Send, a Michigan cherry farmer, explained to the Agriculture Committee that the record warm March temperatures brought his region's cherry trees out of dormancy early and exposed them to later freezes. In Michigan he said:

We have the capacity to produce 275 million pounds of tart cherries. In 2012, our total was 11.6 million pounds.

A potential of 275 million pounds; actual crop, 11.6 million pounds, less than one-twentieth, all because of that early warming and that early bloom and the freezes that then killed them.

These changes I keep speaking about will continue if we go on polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gases. As the harmful effects of climate change become more prevalent, our agricultural policies should reflect the threat posed to farming and food production by these changes. Yet in the farm bill climate change and extreme weather are not mentioned once.

Well, let me correct myself. They are mentioned once. The bill makes reference to an earlier law from 1990, and in the title of that 1990 law the words ``climate change'' appear. So by referring to the 1990 law, the farm bill once mentions climate change. But with all of this going on, that is the only reference. And the reason is that our Republican colleagues will oppose legislation if it even mentions the words ``climate change.''

We can't get around using the name of a statute that passed 20-plus years ago, if ``climate change'' is in the name, so that one had to go in. But, otherwise, climate change is not mentioned in the farm bill, despite all of this activity and effect on farming.

It is not that there aren't things we could do. The Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, which I cochair with Representative Waxman, Senator Cardin, and Representative Markey, asked stakeholders in the agriculture economy about carbon pollution and our resiliency to climate change.

The National Farmers Union, which represents more than 200,000 family farmers, ranchers, and rural members, responded--this is the National Farmers Union:

Mitigating and adapting to climate change is of significant concern to our membership and will be a defining trend that shapes the world.

That is the National Farmers Union on climate change. It will be ``a defining trend that shapes the world.''

Cap-and-trade legislation, the Farmers Union said, would provide a boon to farming and forest lands that take the lead on reducing greenhouse gases. The National Sustainable Agricultural Coalition encouraged a comprehensive approach. An effective policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, wrote the group, ``should have as its cornerstone the support and promotion of sustainable organic cultural systems throughout USDA's programs and initiatives.''

Even the American Farm Bureau Federation, which has at times opposed climate change legislation, expressed clear support for farming practices that keep carbon out of the atmosphere and for investments in biofuels and in renewable energy.

We are grateful to all of the scientific and industry leaders who have shared their ideas with the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change. We need active and willing partners in the effort to ensure our farms can meet the needs of a strong nation.

They are not alone. Responsible people across the spectrum want us to act on carbon and climate. Responsible people such as the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States of America, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, and dozens of major scientific societies--virtually every major one--and the folks in the corporate sector who run Apple and Ford and Nike and Coca Cola--get it. Republicans such as Ronald Reagan's Secretary of State George Schultz, former House Science Committee chair Sherry Boehlert, former Utah Governor and GOP Presidential candidate John Huntsman--responsible people across the spectrum get it. The scientists at NASA get it, and they are telling us to get serious. They are the ones who took a robot the size of an SUV and sent it millions of miles to Mars where they landed it safely on the surface of Mars and now they are driving it around. Do we think they might know what they are talking about? They get it. All across the spectrum, people get it. They are on one side getting something done about climate change.

On the other side are the polluters with their familiar retinue of cranks, extremists, and front organizations. That is basically it. And for some reason, the Republican Party--the great American Republican Party--has chosen to hitch its wagon to the polluters.

I do not get it. I do not see how that works out for them.

Every day the pollution gets worse, and every day the evidence that this is serious gets stronger. I do not know why the Republican Party of Theodore Roosevelt wants to paint itself as the party that went with the polluters and not the scientists; that went with the fringe extreme against the responsible center. It has to be a bad bet. It is a crazy bet.

To make that bet you have to believe God will intervene and perform some magic, in violation of His own laws of physics and chemistry. Is that a bet you want to take? You have to believe that the market will work, even though the market is flagrantly skewed. Is that a bet you want to make? And you have to believe the people who have a vested interest to lie and disbelieve the people who have no conflict of interest, unless you are prepared to think that the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Catholic bishops and all the major scientific organizations all have a conflict of interest. Does that sound very sensible? Does that sound like where you want to hitch the wagon of one of America's great political parties?

Let me close, as we talk about climate change in the context of the farm bill, by quoting our friend Senator Tester, who recently spelled out the crisis facing our farmers in an op-ed in USA Today.

I ask unanimous consent that op-ed be printed at the conclusion of my remarks.

Senator Tester and his wife Sharla have been farming for almost 40 years--the same land that his grandparents homesteaded. This is how our friend from Montana described the changes he sees:

When I was younger, frequent bone-chilling winds whipped snow off the Rocky Mountain Front and brought bitterly cold days that reached -30 degrees. Today, we have only a handful of days that even reach 0 degrees. Changes in the weather are forcing Sharla and I to change how we operate our farm. It's now more difficult to know when to plant to take advantage of the rains.

Some might say the end of bitter winters will be a boon for Montana's economy. But with milder winters, we've seen the sawfly come out earlier to destroy our crops before they can be harvested. Montana's deep freezes also used to kill off the pine bark beetle, which today kills millions of acres of trees across the American West.

He writes:

Montanans already understand that climate change is affecting our daily lives. The argument isn't whether the world is changing, it's how to respond.

I will say, once again, it is time--it is well past time--for us in Congress to wake up to the urgent challenge of our time. There is a lot at stake. There is a lot at stake for all of us. There is a lot at stake for every State, and there is a lot at stake for every generation, particularly for the generations that are to follow.

So often I hear my Republican colleagues expressing concern about what our debt will do to future generations. Fine. What will a ruined climate do to future generations? What will acidified seas do to future generations? What will worse extreme weather and rising seas do to future generations?

There is indeed a lot at stake, and it is time to wake up. It is time to take action.

I yield the floor.


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