Climate Change—(Continued)by Senator Tom Udall
Posted on 2014-03-10
UDALL of New Mexico. Mr. President, I thank Senator Boxer for her
very kind words. She is the chairman of the committee which deals with
climate change legislation and has been ever present in terms of trying
to see if we can come up with a bipartisan solution and get
legislation. I was very proud to serve on her committee when the Obama
administration came in and the Senate sat down to work and was trying
to do something about climate change. Unfortunately, we ran out of
But as we can see by the number of Senators who have spoken--we are up to 30 now--we still have incredible passion about this issue. We know it is a serious problem, the American people know it is a serious problem, and we want something done.
What have we learned? I have watched my colleagues over the night. I am No. 30 and I have watched what they have been talking about. The tradition here in the Senate is normally if we are talking like this and our colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle want to come down and exchange with us, they can do that. That is our tradition, to say we speak and then they speak. What we have ended up seeing is one Republican Senator show up in this 12-plus-hour period is my understanding. I think I am right. This is what was reported on NPR this morning. To me, this is tremendously sad, because in the glory days of the Senate in the 1960s and 1970s major environmental legislation, major conservation organization legislation--remember the Wilderness Act, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air, Endangered Species--was passed with significant bipartisan support. We don't see that effort today. It makes me very sad. We are here all night trying to engage and say: This is something the American people believe is serious, and we need to engage on this issue.
Today I am going to talk a little bit about New Mexico, and how New Mexico and the Southwest are at the bull's-eye when it comes to climate change.
What do I mean by that? If New Mexico is at one temperature and we compare it with the rest of the country--let's say in the rest of the country we have a 1-percent rise--New Mexico is going to be 2 percent, so there is a doubling effect in the Southwest. This is a map of New Mexico, but we are talking the Southwest.
First let me talk a little bit about the drought we have had. Here we are from June 2011 to the present, a drought of epic proportions. The U.S. drought monitor shows more than 90 percent of New Mexico is in extreme drought. Northern and western New Mexico got some precipitation last year, but several other areas of the State remain mostly dry. We can see this is extreme; the other is moderate. Added together, it is a significant impact. These are the kinds of challenges we are going to face with climate change.
To talk a little bit more about these impacts, I would now like to go to chart 2 and look at the snowpack in the northern New Mexico and southern Colorado watersheds. They only range from one-half to three- quarters of what normally would be there.
This is a winter picture. Normally in northern New Mexico at this time of year we would see a massive snowpack. Why is that important? Because in the summer when we start using the water, we start irrigating, the farmers start doing things, they recharge the aquifer. So if we don't have a snowpack, we don't have that kind of recharge and we don't have the storage levels of drinking water.
Just to pick one of our communities, Santa Fe, NM, gets 40 percent of its water from the ground and it gets another big chunk of the water from reservoirs. Those reservoirs are fed when we have a snowpack and when the ground gets recharged and it flows off and flows into those reservoirs, so this is something which makes a huge impact when we don't have a snowpack and when we have a decreasing amount of precipitation. We are going to see more and more of this as we move down the road, when we look at the modeling which has been done by the experts who are working on this issue.
This next slide is particularly disturbing in terms of water. I remember it being roughly at this place on the Rio Grande just last year in the middle of the summer. This photo is showing a very meager amount of water. When I was there last summer, there was no water. It was completely dry. So here, the river which flows the whole length of the State of New Mexico down to southern New Mexico--El Paso, TX, relies on it; Mexico, our neighbor to the south, relies on it--there was no water to be seen. Once again, it dramatically shows the impacts of climate change and the impacts as we see this move down the road.
One experience with ranchers and farmers I think really brings this home in terms of water. There was a flood control project in Tucumcari, NM, created in the middle of the Great Depression. Everybody in the community invested in it. The Federal Government invested in it. These projects have a dual purpose. One is, if there is a big flood, to try to control the flood. The second thing is to hold the water, so when we get to the irrigation season we can have irrigated farmland. They did this in the 1930s. I think about 600 or 700 farmers and ranchers rely on this project and have been relying on this project since the 1930s.
I visited this community recently and learned from the people who run the project and from the farmers and ranchers, in the last couple of years, zero water. No water at all. They had never seen this since the 1930s, even though when we went through very serious conditions in the 1950s it was thought to be one of the biggest droughts and no water. The last 10 or 12 years, this particular project, the same thing: very, very little water.
[[Page S1460]] What ends up happening as a result? Farmers and ranchers cannot plant. Ranchers sell off their herds. Just to show how dramatic it is, in New Mexico we saw 50 percent of our cattle herds sold off this last year. People are hurting so badly in terms of this drought, they are unable to keep their livestock on the land and they end up having to pull the livestock off. This has a devastating impact to people who live closest to the ground.
I have been out on the land in New Mexico with conservationists and scientists and talked to them about climate change. One of the things I try to describe in what I have learned--and I think this is what Chairman Boxer is talking about--when I made a presentation in one of the committees, is if we take the modeling which has been done on climate change in the Southwest, and particularly focusing on New Mexico, what we do with that modeling is ask ourselves: Where are we going to be 50 years down the line? We just had a study at Los Alamos National Laboratory which says by 2050--in less than 50 years--we are not going to have any forests in New Mexico. So much of this area of northern New Mexico and down here, the forests throughout this area, they are saying it looks like no forests and much less water, as I have just talked about. If we don't get snowpack, we can't charge the system back.
The most dramatic description to me is what happens here 50 years from now. These are conservative numbers. These aren't the ones many of the scientists nowadays are saying we have. We are taking conservative numbers, and many scientists are saying it is happening quicker, it is moving faster.
What they tell us is--imagine on a computer screen how we can drag things. New Mexico is over 300 miles. If we click on New Mexico and drag it 300 miles to the south--so we are moving the top of New Mexico down 300 miles to the south--what do we get? We are in the middle of the Chihuahuan desert in Mexico. So what was a dramatic forested area, what was an area which was very acceptable to farming and ranching: Devastating impacts.
So those are the kinds of things. I could go on and on here. But the thing about the impacts--and we could talk about how one of our reservoirs at Elephant Butte has the lowest level in 40 years. This is a great recreational lake which people used. This is a picture of the reservoir in June of 1994. Here is the picture today--dramatically different.
I wish to highlight as I close here--because I know we are trying to wrap up after we have been going for many hours--New Mexico has been focusing on solutions. One of the solutions sitting right in front of us is renewable energy. We know we are going to have to deal with this problem one way or another. It is much better to deal with it earlier. In New Mexico we are doing everything we can to foster the solar power industry. This slide shows solar power to beat coal prices in New Mexico. Right now, the solar installations going up are very competitive in terms of coal.
Wind power. Once again, in New Mexico we have installed wind capacity of 778 megawatts. New Mexico ranks 19th for the total megawatts installed. So all over New Mexico, up on our mesas, as we can see here, we have wind turbines collecting the energy from the wind. The number of wind turbines: 575. New Mexico ranks 17th for the number of utility- scale wind turbines. Current wind generation in New Mexico is 6.1 percent.
Just a few years ago when we put in place a renewable electricity standard, we had a lower level and we have been pushing that up. This is one of the things we need to do at the national level. My cousin and I worked in the House of Representatives before we were in the Senate to get a national renewable electricity standard. This is something we have to do which is a solution.
As I laid out all of the things earlier, the devastating impacts, one of the things we should realize is there are solutions; they are here today; the technology is perfected; and we are able to put those into place.
The final area of renewable energy I wish to talk about and we have huge potential here in the Southwest is called advanced biofuels. I have been to this facility and seen the experimentation they are doing. They have taken land and are farming algae. What eventually happens with this algae is it is refined and the algae becomes a very good fuel. So this is something which is, once again, a solution to this problem.
We shouldn't despair when we look at the impact of climate change and when we look in the future as to what people are going to predict, because we know we have the ability to cultivate solutions.
I am very proud of my State and how we have really worked to cultivate these sources of renewable energy, and we are moving it up with our renewable electricity standard higher and higher every year. I am very proud to have been a part of this effort, the 30th Senator to stand and speak about this. I guess we have been going about 13 hours, 14 hours.
Once again, I can't close without mentioning I wish we had our friends and colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle down here to engage us. I don't know what to conclude but that either they don't care about this or don't want to engage with us. We only had one Republican Senator in this 14-hour period show up. This sure isn't like the glory days of the Senate when so many Republicans participated with Democrats to tackle the big problems which faced our country. This is a problem which faces the entire world, so we need the U.S. Senate and the entire world working together in a cooperative way to solve this.
I thank the Presiding Officer, who was a key person in terms of organizing this, Senator Whitehouse from Rhode Island, and I yield for my good friend from Massachusetts.
The PRESIDING OFFICER. The senior Senator from Massachusetts.