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In Senate Floor Speech, Sen. Franken Urges Colleagues to Take Action to Address Climate Change

Monday, April 22, 2013

Today, U.S. Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) took to the floor of the Senate to urge his colleagues to take action to address global climate change. In his speech, he noted that climate change has already led to record high temperatures, widespread drought, and deadly hurricanes - which have cost taxpayers billions of dollars - and that its effects are only beginning to be felt.

"In 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 it, just as Democratic and Republican leaders outside of Washington are talking about it. And ultimately we have to come together to start addressing climate change before its damage and cost to society get out of control."

Sen. Franken was recently named chairman of the Energy Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and has said he plans to use the post to promote renewable energy and energy efficiency. In December 2011, Sen. Franken and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-N.H.) held a colloquy in which they urged their colleagues to take scientific evidence of global climate change seriously, and to take legislative action to slow and reverse it.

The full text of Sen. Franken's speech is below.

Climate Change Speech (as prepared for delivery)
Senator Al Franken

M. President, I rise today 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 one year is, scientists tell us that, since the last ice age - twenty thousand years ago - the Earth has warmed only sixteen degrees - at 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 one year is not just remarkable, but alarming.

Often, when people consider the harmful consequences of climate change and its costs, 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 an 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 ag sector to be around fifty to sixty billion dollars. 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. And 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 didn't run aground, shippers sent them down the Mississippi half-full with, say, soybeans, making our beans less competitive with Brazilian beans. More and more, my conversations with Minnesota soybean growers, who export over a third of their crop, focus on this very issue.

Climate change is exacerbating our nation's wild fires. And that's 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're seeing longer fire seasons-on average by more than 30 days. Wild fires 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, and without hesitation, he said yes. The Forest Service is spending more and more fighting wild fires-now about half of its entire 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's also exacerbating other problems plaguing our forests. That includes the very serious bark beetle problem. The bark beetle is normally kept in check because cold winters kill its larva. But as winters get warmer, the bark beetle is surviving at higher altitudes. That means they're destroying more forest.

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, M. President, this mountain pine beetle has killed more than 70,000-square miles worth of trees-that's an area equivalent to the entire state of Washington.

And, of course, M. President, we can't talk about climate change without talking about sea level rise. I serve on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. Several months ago, I attended a hearing on sea level rise and heard testimony about how rising sea level is increasing the size of flood zones and increasing damage from storm surges. One of the witnesses told us that just a few extra inches of sea level rise 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 six months later, that's exactly what happened when Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and flooded the subways. And my colleagues do not need to be reminded of the cost of Hurricane Sandy. It's costing taxpayers a staggering $60 billion.

Unfortunately, M. President, only one of my colleagues from the other side of the aisle, the Ranking Member, Senator Murkowski, attended that 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 don't believe that human activities contribute to climate change. Many others, I suspect, don't talk about climate change because addressing it requires making some difficult choices.
But climate change is already costing us. And if we don't act now, it will worsen dramatically and be far more costly. The Defense Department has studied potential threats to national security posed by climate change. DoD's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review states that climate change may act as an accelerant of instability or conflict. And that, in turn, would place burdens on civilian institutions and militaries around the world. The top Commander in the Pacific-Admiral Samuel Locklear-has said that the biggest long-term security challenge in the Pacific is climate change. As the Pacific Commander, he understands the impact that sea level rise and extreme weather events can have on military resources and on civilian populations.

My constituents in Minnesota also understand the threat of climate change. That's why recently nearly four hundred people gathered at a local Lutheran Church in Willmar, Minnesota to talk about climate change. Willmar is not a big city, so when this many people gather in one place you know it's a big deal. They're concerned about climate change and the marked increase in severe weather occurrences. But when they look to Washington, 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. And former Utah Governor and Republican presidential candidate Jon 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 this 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 and I see that your father died of a heart attack at an early age. So you've got to go on a diet and start working out."

And you say, "You know what? I want a second opinion."

And the second doctor examines you and says, "Okay, look. You have a family history of heart disease. Your father died of a heart attack at forty. You weigh over three hundred pounds. Your cholesterol is out of control. Your blood pressure is through the roof. It would be just irresponsible of me not to immediately send you to this place I know at the Mayo Clinic."

And then you say, "Well, thanks, but I'd like a third opinion."

And the third doctor says, "Wow, this is a problem! You know, looking at your family history, your tests, and your weight, I am amazed that you're still alive."

And then you say, "I really would like a fourth opinion." And this keeps going until, finally, you go to the fiftieth doctor. It takes a while to get to 50 doctors. It's been a couple months.

And the fiftieth doctor examines you and says, "It's a good thing you came to me. Because all this diet and exercise would have been a complete waste. You're doing just fine. Those other doctors are in the pockets of the fresh fruits and vegetables people. Enjoy life. Eat whatever you want. Oh, and watch a lot of TV."

And then you learn that that doctor was paid his salary by the makers of Cheetos. Which, don't get me wrong, are a delicious snack food that can and should be eaten in moderation.

If 98 out of 100 doctors tell me I've got a problem, I should take their advice. And if those two other doctors get paid by Big Snack Food, like certain climate deniers get paid by Big Coal, I shouldn't take their advice. Well, 98 out of 100 climate scientists are telling us we've got a problem.

So Governor Huntsman is right. And 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. Exxon-Mobil used to fund the Heartland Institute, one of the leading climate change denial organizations. But if you go to Exxon-Mobil's website today, it states-and I quote-"Rising greenhouse gas emissions pose significant risks to society and ecosystems." That's Exxon-Mobil.

Shell Oil states on its website-quote-"CO2 emissions must be reduced to avoid serious climate change." Shell Oil.

So even the major oil and gas companies have begun to acknowledge that climate change is real. I would 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.

In 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 it, just as Democratic AND Republican leaders outside of Washington are talking about it.

And ultimately we have to come together to start addressing climate change before its damage and cost to society get out of control.

I don't pretend this is going to be easy, M. President. Some people will point out that climate change is a global problem, and we can't solve it alone. And they are right. Emissions in the developing world are on the rise. China now surpasses the U.S. in total greenhouse gas emissions. Not per capita. We're 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. That's 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 have to 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, and I quote, "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 really important, and 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. And do you know why natural gas is transforming our energy sector today? It's 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, micro-seismic 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-and I quote-"DOE"- that's the Department of Energy-"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.

And in the same way, we have to support the renewable energy sector now. We have to be the ones who will sell this transformative and environment-friendly technology to other nations.

So we need to start by having a conversation about climate change. It would be irresponsible to avoid the issue just because it's 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's not going to be easy, because there are going to be painful tradeoffs. And I certainly don't have all the answers. But I do know that we have to have the conversation.

We can't leave this issue to future generations. I have a grandchild on the way-my first. And 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.

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

So I invite my colleagues to join in this endeavor. Let's again make dealing with climate change a bipartisan issue. We really owe it to the nation and to future generations.

Thank you, M. President. I yield the floor.


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