Mr. President, on this side we know climate change is a real and urgent threat. The distinguished Majority Leader seems not to believe it’s a problem at all.
The Majority leader has scheduled votes today on a version of the Green New Deal. I was proud to cosponsor the Green New Deal resolution when my friend Senator Markey introduced it earlier this year. But nobody should take what’s happening today to mean the floor has been opened up to a serious debate on how to address climate change. This is a sham debate.
The Green New Deal is all about giving the Congress a mission statement on climate change. It’s about recognizing the enormous threat and encouraging everyone to bring forward their best ideas to address it. But it’s not a bill, it’s a resolution. That’s why I have to scratch my head when I hear all these far-fetched attacks on the Green New Deal in the media — and here on this floor! So let’s clear up any confusion about what the Green New Deal says.
Nobody is banning cheeseburgers. If you want to eat an ice cream sandwich and wash it down with a milkshake, be my guest, because nobody is banning them either. I don’t know what this anti-fast-food legislation is that I keep hearing about, but it certainly isn’t the Green New Deal. William Peter Wyden, age 11, would be apoplectic if he found out his father had signed onto that kind of bill.
Nobody is building trains to Hawaii. Nobody is banning airplanes. Nobody is taking away people’s cars. The Green New Deal is about bringing our best ideas to bear in this fight against climate change, because the American people are demanding action.
The issue of climate change comes up at every one of the open-to-all town meetings I hold in my home state of Oregon. And in Oregon, when you’re talking about climate change, you’re talking about wildfires. The fires that have raged across the west over the last few years — they are not your grandfather’s wildfires. They’re getting bigger. They’re getting more powerful. They’re more dangerous to our communities back home. And they don’t burn for only a few months during summertime “fire season” the way they used to. These days, it’s almost a year-round prospect.
In Oregon, we’ve had to get used to the idea of “clean air refugees” when fires burn near populated areas. A few years ago, a massive fire burned just outside Portland along the banks of the Columbia River. It wasn’t long before it jumped the river into Washington. Anybody who hasn’t been to the Columbia River Gorge should know that it’s not a quaint little stream. It’s a River with a capital R. One of the biggest in the entire country. Rivers have historically blocked the spread of wildfires. But not anymore.
Last year, dozens of people were killed and more than 10,000 structures were destroyed by the Camp Fire, the most destructive fire in California history. These infernos are happening across the west. Washington, Nevada, Colorado, Montana, and elsewhere.
And climate change isn’t just about fires. It drives extreme temperatures in both directions. Extreme cold is a danger to millions of people during the winter. Warmer temperatures in spring and summer will bring more rain and more floods to much of the country. Elsewhere, especially in the west, the threat of drought is always looming.
The hurricanes battering the east coast and gulf of Mexico are intensifying. It seems like every week another group of scientists warns about mass extinction events, ecological failures, and runaway temperature increases.
And you have to remember that there’s an economic impact associated with all of this. Americans are facing a future with extreme temperatures, bigger storms and hotter fires. It costs money to rebuild a city that’s flooded by a hurricane or burned in an inferno. Insurance premiums go up when weather-related damage becomes more common. It requires more energy to heat and cool homes and workplaces in extreme temperatures.
I signed onto the Green New Deal because the threat of climate change is enormous, and the time to act was yesterday.
I also want everyone to remember that the original New Deal was not one piece of legislation. It was more than a dozen separate bills. That’s the model the Congress is going to have to repeat in the years ahead.
For my part, I’m the Ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee, which has jurisdiction over tax laws. Today there are more than 40 separate tax breaks for energy on the books. Many are the dirty energy relics of yesteryear. It’s a system that forces taxpayers to write big annual checks to the dirtiest oil and gas and coal companies. You cannot stand up to climate change until you fix this broken system.
What I’ve proposed is throwing those 40-plus energy tax breaks in the trash can. In their place would be three new incentives: one for cleaner energy, one for cleaner transportation, and one for energy efficiency.
But as I said, this is just one proposal. It’s going to take a lot of good ideas to wage a full battle against climate change. That’s what the Senate ought to be discussing. Not this sham debate.
Yesterday Senator Alexander, Republican from Tennessee, came to the floor. He said he believes climate change is real, he believes it’s caused by man, and he called for a “new Manhattan project for clean energy.” He has a lot of ideas for what that should look like.
More of his colleagues on the other side should follow his lead. Because in my view, the Senate ought to have that debate. That’s how the Senate is supposed to function. The two sides recognize a problem, and bring forward their ideas in a serious debate.
But that’s not what’s happening today. This is a political game, and I don’t believe anybody should take part in it. Climate change is the biggest long-term threat this country faces. The longer Congress waits to address climate change, the more damage it’s going to do. Years in the future, when our children and our grandchildren are dealing with the consequences of our inaction, they will look back on this moment with shame and anger. The American people deserve a lot better than the sham debate happening on the Senate floor right now.