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Barbara B.
Democrat CA

About Sen. Barbara
  • Climate Change

    by Senator Barbara Boxer

    Posted on 2013-03-11

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    BOXER. Mr. President, I am very pleased to see that we have confirmed a couple of judges. We have judges all over this country, nominees waiting to be confirmed and judicial emergencies all over the country, so I hope this is a start of a new day. We will see what happens.

    Mr. President, I stand here as chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee to talk about one of the greatest threats facing our Nation; that is, climate change, dangerous climate change, or you could call it climate disruption. It seems as though the only people who do not get it are Members of Congress. They do not get it.

    Last week I talked about a front page story in USA TODAY that highlighted the impacts of climate change unfolding around us. The story I talked about is the first of a yearlong series called ``Why you should sweat climate change.'' Everyone else is sweating about it but not here, not in this Senate, not in this Congress.

    Since last week, additional information concerning climate change has been released that I want to talk about today. I want to build a record in this Senate on an issue that threatens the very lives of our grandchildren. It is hard to imagine that this country is facing a question of our own survival and so few people seem to care about it.

    I am going to talk about another report. A study published last week in Science reports that average global temperatures were higher in the past decade than over most of the previous 11,300 years. Let me repeat that. Let me repeat that for any colleagues who might be listening. Average global temperatures were higher in the past decade than over most of the previous 11,300 years. Yet the Senate does very little.

    [[Page S1284]] Senator Sanders and I have a bill--a very important bill--to put a price on the pollution that is causing the climate to be disrupted and to change. Let me say that we do not have a slew of sponsors.

    The lead author of the study in this Science report said average global temperatures were higher in the past decade than most of the previous 11,300 years. He is a paleoclimatologist at Oregon State University. Here is what he said: What's different is the rate of change. . . . What we've seen over the past 150 years is much greater than anything we saw in the past 11,000.

    That is Shaun Marcott, Ph.D., the lead author of the study.

    Some people may ask, why is this study important? What does it mean for our kids? What does it mean to our grandkids? Let's go to the quote.

    If the scientists' forecasts are correct, the planet will be warmer in 2100 than it has been for 11,300 years.

    The scientific evidence continues to mount. Study after study has concluded that the planet is warming and the impacts have already started. Yet the only place that doesn't seem to get this message is right here in Washington, DC--not at the White House; they get it. President Obama understands it. That is why he worked with us to increase fuel economy, to keep that carbon pollution from automobiles out of the air, and we are moving to a 55-miles-per-gallon standard.

    That is going to help, but that is not enough. We need to put a price on pollution so polluters turn away from dirty energy and turn toward clean energy. That will save us from most of the ravages of the changing climate. But the window is closing on the timeframe because impacts have already started. Another study released last week by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, NOAA, found there was a dramatic jump in the amount of carbon dioxide in the air in 2012. It was the second highest increase since 1959, when record-keeping began.

    The increase in carbon in the air is yet another signal that scientists' predictions about climate change and climate disruption-- those predictions are coming true. We have already seen the devastating and far-reaching consequences of unchecked climate disruption in the extreme weather events.

    The Government Accountability Office--the GAO; they are not partisan, and they are not ideological--recently released a report entitled ``2013 High Risk List'' that discusses how climate disruption and extreme weather events threaten our Nation. This is the Government Accountability Office. We, the taxpayers, support the Government Accountability Office. They are nonpartisan, and they are straight- from-the-shoulder analysts. They say: Climate change could threaten coastal areas with rising sea levels, alter agricultural productivity, and increase the intensity and frequency of severe weather events such as floods, drought, and hurricanes.'' I guess they look out their window in addition to looking at the numbers. Anyone who looked out their window who lives in the area of Superstorm Sandy understands this.

    Climate change could threaten our coastal areas--it is already doing it. I don't know if anybody saw those homes being removed from a beach in Massachusetts--gorgeous homes. They were there for a while--gone, because the ocean was going to envelope them.

    According to the GAO, extreme weather events have cost the Nation tens of billions of dollars already, just over the past decade. As these extreme weather events increase, so will the cost to American taxpayers. This is more from the Government Accountability Office. This is not from the EPA. This is not from NOAA. This is not from Barbara Boxer. This is not from Bernie Sanders. This is not from Sheldon Whitehouse. This is not from the Environment Committee. This is from the GAO.

    [T]he impacts and costliness of weather disasters-- resulting from floods, drought, and other events such as tropical cyclones--will increase in significance as what are considered ``rare'' events become more common and intense due to climate change.

    When I started in this work a very long time ago, we talked about the 100-year flood, and we could protect ourselves against the 100-year flood. Now--as Governor Cuomo has stated so eloquently--we are seeing the 100-year flood every couple of years. Now taxpayers are on the hook due to extreme weather events such as Superstorm Sandy and because the Federal Government owns buildings across the Nation and insures property and crops and provides disaster assistance.

    Let's see what else the GAO says: Climate change . . . impacts pose significant financial risks for the federal government-- Which, by the way, means us, the taxpayers-- which owns extensive infrastructure, insures property through federal flood and crop insurance programs, provides technical assistance to state and local governments, and provides emergency aid in response to natural disasters.

    So our Federal finances are significantly at risk.

    [T]here is a growing recognition that the cost of inaction could be greater and--given the government's precarious fiscal position--increasingly difficult to manage given expected budget pressures.

    We are going to see a couple of different budgets emerge--one from the Democrats in the Senate and one from the Republicans in the House-- and they will have different visions for America. One budget, the Democratic budget, is going to get to a deficit reduction, but it will invest in our people. It will say to the very wealthiest: You have to do your share so our kids can go to Head Start, get their education, job training, and clean up the environment.

    The other budget is going to be hurtful. It is going to be painful because the other budget--the Republican budget--is going to protect and defend one group of people in this country, which is the wealthy few. Therefore, we will not have the resources to do what we have to do, and we are going to see cutbacks in the areas that we need in order to make sure we plan for this extreme weather and make sure we can avert this climate disruption by investing in clean energy.

    The GAO report is clear: Unchecked climate change comes at a very high price, but that is what is happening in this Congress. The President is doing his best. Some of us over here are pushing hard. In the House they passed a bill. We fell short because of a filibuster. We had 54 votes, and we needed 60 votes. As a result, a price on carbon never happened, and now we are seeing hotter days, a hotter climate, and more severe, extreme weather. We need to take these steps. We need to make these investments. As these budgets come down, let's take a look.

    I can assure everyone that when we have a travesty and tragedy such as Superstorm Sandy, we are never going to turn away from our people whether it happens to your State, Mr. President, due to a severe drought or certain types of pests that arise because of a change in the weather. We know such events happen. It is happening all over the country, and it can happen anywhere.

    There is extreme weather where we have fires and droughts. We have snow when we never expect it, torrents of rain that we cannot even believe is happening, not to mention these high temperatures. We owe it to our children and our grandchildren not to turn away.

    Now, let's see what else the GAO tells us. This is a call from them to us. Is anybody listening? Is anybody who gets to vote in this Senate listening? The GAO calls for ``a government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership and the authority to manage climate change risks that encompasses the entire range of related federal activities and addresses all key elements of strategic planning.'' That is a lot of words for something so simple. What the GAO is saying to us is, you guys better act because this thing is getting out of control. Every time I get a chance on a Monday evening, I intend to come down to the Senate floor and take a few minutes to build a case-- and I hope an indisputable one--that we put a price on carbon pollution just like we made sure other pollution had a price on it. It didn't matter if it was a regulatory price or if they had to go buy scrubbers to keep dangerous pollutants out of the air. Carbon pollution is dangerous. It is putting our people at risk, but no one would know it from what is happening around here.

    I want to close by thanking my colleague Bernie Sanders, with whom I am so proud to serve. I am the chairman of the Environment Committee, [[Page S1285]] and he is a great member. Together we have come up with an excellent bill. The bill takes the proceeds of that carbon tax and invests it in our people, invests in clean energy, makes sure our middle class and working poor have the funds they need to pay the higher prices of electricity in the early years, and it will create jobs.

    There is no question as far as what is happening to our coastal States. There is no question as far as what is happening to our farms. There is no question as to what is happening to our natural resources. There is no question what is happening to our species. Scientists predict that 50 percent of God's species will be gone if we do nothing.

    When people stand here and laugh off this notion that we are facing severe climate change, I tell them: Look at some of the church groups who are supporting us. They have come together. They are with us. They understand that God's creation is at stake. There is no doubt about it.

    We are the stewards of this environment. We are the ones who are supposed to protect it. Yet in this Senate, it is shrugged off as if it is a nothing burger. There are young people who are here whose future is at stake. They want to enjoy the same opportunities my generation enjoyed. We owe it to them to do better.

    This nonpartisan GAO report tells us clearly that we better have a ``government-wide strategic approach with strong leadership.'' I have to say I hope we have more people on this floor who will show that kind of leadership because the clock is ticking.

    I say to every Member here--we have old ones, young ones, and middle ones: You are here at the moment that we can do something. You are here at the moment we can still do something. The Bush administration wasted 8 years by going to the courts and arguing that the Clean Air Act did not cover carbon pollution. They did nothing for 8 years. Finally, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 and said: Yes, of course, it covers carbon pollution. God bless the Obama administration for moving forward in every way they can--unfortunately, without us at this point.

    We will be judged harshly if we turn away. We are here now. We didn't choose this time to be born. We didn't choose the fact that this is an issue that is upon us. I don't know what is going to wake up this place, but I am going to do my best to ring the bell as often as I can.

    I thank the Chair.

    I yield the floor.

    The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. Warren). The Senator from Alaska.


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