Boxer Delivers “Reality Check” on Global Warming Action
March 19, 2009
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Washington, DC - In remarks delivered today, U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works called national global warming legislation "the common-sense approach" to ensure that our federal, state and international climate efforts are effectively coordinated and drive innovation and job creation, and urged her colleagues to support swift action on a global warming bill.
Senator Boxer said, "It is important that everyone understand that action to fight global warming is already moving forward. It makes no sense for Congress to sit on the sidelines and be encircled by action that it can only accept, rather than direct. We have a moral obligation to do all we can to solve this problem. And in the process, we will reinvigorate our economy with a sense of purpose that will unite the American people."
Full text of Senator Boxer's remarks follows:
Senator Barbara Boxer
I am here today to say that the days of inaction on climate change have ended. The Obama Administration, our states and the international community are all moving to avoid the ravages of unchecked global warming now.
At EPA and other federal agencies, from Maine to California, and in cities across this nation, families, communities, governments and companies are all taking steps to reduce global warming pollution. The question is whether Congress decides to play a central role or a smaller part.
One year ago, the Bush Administration was throwing up roadblocks and covering its tracks on global warming policy. The Bush EPA had denied the California waiver, despite the unanimous recommendations of its scientists and lawyers. The crucial endangerment finding by the EPA, which would have given the green light to many actions under the Clean Air Act was in cyberspace limbo - marooned in a deliberately unopened email.
What a difference a year makes.
The Obama Administration has already begun to reverse many of the previous Administration's environmental rollbacks. During his first week in office, President Obama announced an EPA review of the California waiver decision. The EPA is also reviewing the endangerment finding and there are reports that it will be released very soon. And in his speech to a joint session of Congress on February 24, President Obama underscored his support for a market-based cap on carbon pollution.
The stimulus bill included billions for renewable energy, smart grid, and energy efficiency programs along with tax incentives for manufacturers of renewable energy technologies.
So action has begun.
And not a minute too soon. The science makes it clear that action on global warming must move forward quickly.
In 2007, the Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) declared that the evidence for global warming is "unequivocal" and painted a stark and sobering picture of the future that awaits us if we fail to act.
In North America, the IPCC warned of risks to public health, including longer and harsher heat waves with more heat-related illness and death, increased water-borne disease from degraded water quality, and more cases of respiratory disease, including asthma and other lung diseases, from increased smog. Children and the elderly will be especially vulnerable.
In the U.S., the IPCC clearly warned that unchecked global warming will lead to reduced snowpack in the western mountains, critically reducing access to water. There will also be prolonged droughts and insect invasions that kill crops and damage forests, leaving them more susceptible to fire. Coastal communities and habitats will be battered by intensified storms.
And there's more.
Just last week the press reported how rising sea levels will pose an increasing threat to homes, schools, hospitals, sewage plants and power plants along the California coast. Major investments will be required to protect or relocate critical infrastructure. What's more, over 330 hazardous waste sites could be flooded.
In New York, another report predicts that Northeastern cities could be hit hardest as sea levels rise - even the tunnels of New York City's subways could flood due to a combination of rising sea levels and increased storm surge as global warming changes ocean currents.
The U.S. city most vulnerable to rising sea levels is Miami, Florida, in terms of the size of its at-risk population, according to an international study. New York City, New Orleans and Virginia Beach are in the top 20 most vulnerable, ranked by economic assets at risk.
In the western states, earlier springs and longer summers are raising forest fire risks. We have seen more and bigger wildfires across California already. Climate models by the Forest Service predict a greater likelihood of bigger and more severe fires ahead. In fact, the Forest Service reports fires in Montana, Arizona and New Mexico are acutely sensitive to temperature changes and may respond dramatically to global warming.
We had a recent hearing on the latest global warming science in our Committee. Our witnesses included Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the Chairman of the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The message Dr. Pachauri and our other witnesses delivered could not have been more clear. Not only is climate change happening now -- it is happening faster than scientists expected or predicted, and we have a very narrow window in which to act to avoid catastrophe.
For example, these scientists told us that recent studies show rapidly increasing carbon dioxide emissions worldwide, as well as accelerated melting of arctic ice and new evidence that Antarctica is warming, too.
The consensus is clear among leading scientists from nations all over the world, including our own. The conservative step is to heed those warnings and take action, not to ignore them.
If there is any room for doubt, it points overwhelmingly in one direction: our predictions were too conservative. Climate change is happening faster and harder than originally thought.
At that same hearing where Dr. Pachauri spoke, the Minority had a witness. Though he was presenting a narrow viewpoint, he was well spoken. But toward the end of the hearing, he went off a cliff. He said everything would be fine if atmospheric carbon dioxide was three, even four times as high as it is now -1000 parts per million or more.
Most scientists have warned that as we move beyond 450 parts per million, the risks become enormous.
The Minority witness said the earth's CO2 levels have hit 1000 parts per million before, and everything was just fine.
So I asked him, "When was that?"
And he answered,
"80 million years ago."
And he described the world back then as "a very prosperous place."
I knew the skeptics were living in the past. But I didn't realize just how far in the past.
But let me tell you, 80 million years ago, dinosaurs still ruled the earth. Herds of plant-eaters stomped across mudflats in northern New Mexico. Pterosaurs the size of small airplanes soared across the skies. 80 million years ago, you couldn't live in much of what is now the Midwest, the Great Plains or the Southeast. It was all under water, beneath a shallow sea. There weren't any people - in fact, our closest ancestors at that point were tiny shrew-like creatures.
I am not going to tell my new grandson that he has to become a dinosaur or a shrew to survive in the future.
What our Minority witness failed to recognize is that the point is not whether any life will remain on earth - the point is that our world as we know it, our human society, our families, our cities, our food supplies, our water sources, are all at risk. Global warming is happening now, and unless we act, the danger is that these changes could happen faster than we can adapt to them. Not over "geological time" or millions of years, but within our own lifetimes and those of our children and grandchildren.
The only goal of the deniers is to sow doubt and confusion to ensure endless delay.
As I said in the beginning of my remarks -- delay is over. We are moving forward now.
In one of his very first major statements after the election last November, President Obama said, "Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious."
We face the threat of global warming at a time when we are also called upon to confront a major economic crisis -- but here's the thing. Fighting global warming gives us the opportunity to move toward energy independence, new clean-energy technologies, and a strong, powerful economy with millions of good jobs.
There are many paths being pursued now. The states and local governments are taking action.
Dozens of states and hundreds of cities have joined regional efforts to reduce emissions and put a price on carbon pollution.
As of March 2009, more than 900 mayors from the 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, representing a total population of nearly 83 million citizens, have signed on to the Mayors' Climate Initiative, pledging to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
I am so proud of the leadership my state of California has shown on this issue - thanks to our energy efficiency standards. If every state in the union were as efficient as California, it is estimated we could save the energy equivalent of all the oil we import from the Middle East each year. California has also been a leader among the states and internationally - the state signed a collaborative agreement with the United Kingdom on climate action in 2006.
The state of Oregon recently announced that it expects to meet its goal to halt and reverse the trend of rising greenhouse gas emissions by next year.
As we sit here in Washington, DC, we are being encircled by cap and trade agreements at the state and regional level.
To the north, the ten Northeastern and Mid-Atlantic states in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) - a regional cap and trade program - have already been holding auctions for carbon allowances.
If you look a little further to our north and west, another six states have formed the Midwest Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, and are developing their own cap and trade system. The Midwest Accord even crosses international lines, including the Canadian province of Manitoba.
In the western states, the Western Climate Initiative (WCI) - comprised of seven U.S. states, including my home state of California, and four Canadian provinces -- recently announced its recommendations for the design of a regional market-based cap-and-trade program.
In the Southeast, Charlie Crist, the Republican governor, has signed a law authorizing the Florida's Department of Environmental Protection to develop cap-and-trade program for emissions from electric utilities that could begin operation as soon as January 1, 2010.
State and local action is here - now - and the stimulus bill we passed is helping them enormously.
Also, our new Energy Secretary, Steven Chu, is working to release millions in grants for new energy technologies that were held up by the Bush Administration.
As for EPA, the Supreme Court's April 2007 decision in Massachusetts v. EPA made it clear that that EPA must act to address greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Here's what the court said:
"The harms associated with climate change are serious and well recognized. The Government's own objective assessment of the relevant science and a strong consensus among qualified experts indicate that global warming threatens ... a precipitate rise in sea levels, severe and irreversible changes to natural ecosystems, a significant reduction in winter snow pack with direct and important economic consequences, and increases in the spread of disease and the ferocity of weather events."....
"Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of ‘air pollutant,' we hold that EPA has the statutory authority to regulate the emission of such gasses..."
The Clean Air Act provides EPA with powerful tools for addressing greenhouse gases, and it is available right now to start getting a handle on global warming pollution.
There are several aspects to global warming action under the Clean Air Act, so let me walk you through them briefly.
The first step that EPA can, and is, taking is to review California's request for a waiver to tackle greenhouse gas emissions from motor vehicles. Strong tailpipe emissions standards are crucial, since vehicles account for about a third of U.S. global warming pollution.
This immediate EPA review of the waiver decision shows respect for California and the 18 other states -- representing more than half the U.S. population -- who are waiting for the green light to address global warming pollution from motor vehicles.
Second, the Obama EPA issued a draft rule to establish an economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions registry, an essential first step toward capping and reducing emissions.
Third, EPA Administrator Jackson should - and I believe will -- take action under the Clean Air Act to issue a determination that greenhouse gases represent a danger to public health and welfare. EPW investigations and hearings last year uncovered the fact that EPA had prepared an Endangerment Finding and transmitted it to the White House, where it was dropped into administrative limbo and hidden from public view by the Bush Administration. Why? Because they understand that it means action must follow.
There is no question that the law and the facts require an endangerment finding, and it should happen without further delay, and I believe it will.
EPA can also use the Clean Air Act to address power plants and other large stationary sources of carbon emissions.
This is especially important in this period because power plants have life spans of 40 or 50 years. It is critical that we don't build a fleet of new, inefficient, dirty plants that will make the problem worse by spewing unregulated global warming pollution for decades.
I have talked about the tools the Clean Air Act provides for dealing with global warming. But while the Clean Air Act allows the EPA considerable flexibility in how it chooses to cut greenhouse gases, new global warming legislation offers flexibility and rewards for our people.
It is far better to design a U.S. solution that mobilizes the American economy, harnesses the creativity and innovative spirit of the American people, and transforms the way we generate and use energy.
President Obama has called for a cap and trade system in his budget. It is important to keep the revenues from cap and trade in the budget document and I am confident that we will.
Cap and trade legislation would allow the free market to determine the value of pollution permits, and it also provides powerful incentives for innovation and investment in clean energy that will drive economic growth and move America toward energy independence, and it will give us enough revenues to strengthen our nation.
A few weeks ago, I presented my principles for global warming legislation. The primary goals of this legislation would be to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid dangerous global warming while promoting economic growth and energy independence.
To achieve these goals, legislation to cut global warming pollution shall:
1. Reduce emissions to levels guided by science to avoid dangerous global warming.
2. Set short and long term emissions targets that are certain and enforceable, with periodic review of the climate science and adjustments to targets and policies as necessary to meet emissions reduction targets.
3. Ensure that state and local entities continue pioneering efforts to address global warming.
4. Establish a transparent and accountable market-based system that efficiently reduces carbon emissions.
5. Use revenues from the carbon market to:
- Keep consumers whole as our nation transitions to clean energy;
- Invest in clean energy technologies and energy efficiency measures;
- Assist states, localities and tribes in addressing and adapting to global warming impacts;
- Assist workers, businesses and communities, including manufacturing states, in the transition to a clean energy economy;
- Support efforts to conserve wildlife and natural systems threatened by global warming; and
-Work with the international community, including faith leaders, to provide support to developing nations in responding and adapting to global warming. In addition to other benefits, these actions will help avoid the threats to international stability and national security posed by global warming.
6. Ensure a level global playing field, by providing incentives for emission reductions and effective deterrents so that countries contribute their fair share to the international effort to combat global warming.
My Committee will continue to work hand in hand with the House and with President Obama. The President's leadership will be a vital part of this process.
What I am saying today is that a cap and trade system is the best plan for avoiding the ravages of climate change, creating new green jobs, and moving this nation away from our dependence on imported oil and toward clean, renewable sources of energy.
I would say to my colleagues on both sides of the aisle: This is not the time to sit on the sidelines. Now is not the time to throw up roadblocks. Now is the time to get on board, join us in this effort and be productive partners in crafting a strong bill that sets us on the right path, and here's why.
Action is underway now. The EPA is already moving to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
If Congress does nothing - we will be encircled by our states and the world as we look on. We will be watching EPA do our job, because they must under the Clean Air Act.
National legislation is the common sense approach; it is the best way to coordinate all of the ongoing efforts at the federal, state and international level.
We should work together on legislation because we have an opportunity to marry our greatest challenge - this economy -- with our greatest opportunity - clean energy.
Thomas Friedman put it concisely in his most recent book, Hot, Flat and Crowded:
"...the ability to develop clean power and energy efficient technologies is going to become the defining measure of a country's economic standing, environmental health, energy security, and national security over the next 50 years." (Thomas Friedman, Hot, Flat and Crowded, p. 172)
When we confront the threat of unchecked global warming by investing in clean energy technologies and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we also have a recipe for economic recovery. The time to start is now, and we must as a nation answer the call to action to address global warming and create millions of green jobs in America.
We pulled ourselves out of the Great Depression when we mobilized to fight World War Two. When we mobilize to fight global warming and move toward a clean energy economy, we will create millions of jobs and chart a path to recovery.
Our states and cities are not waiting - they are taking action now.
Our President is not waiting. He has acted in the stimulus and in his budget.
EPA and the other federal agencies are not waiting - they are moving swiftly to address this responsibility the Supreme Court said they have.
In close partnership with President Obama, Congress should move forward.
And by the way, business isn't waiting either.
Business leaders understand that the companies that embrace clean energy and act now to address the threat of global warming will be the winners in the years ahead.
Let's look at what business is already doing.
GE has a business strategy called ecomagination that is designed to build innovative technologies and solutions that help customers address environmental and financial needs and help GE grow. Since 2005, GE has saved more than $100 million in energy costs and developed more than 70 new ecomagination certified products, while earning $17 billion in revenues in 2008.
WalMart's sustainability initiative aims to power the company entirely with renewable energy and create zero waste.
PepsiCo is measuring how much its products contribute to global warming, in an effort to increase energy efficiency and prepare for cuts in carbon emissions.
Google is gathering solar power from panels on top of nearly all the roof space on its corporate campus, aiming to supply a third of its energy needs. And the company recently announced development of software to help homeowners track their energy consumption.
Government, business and community leaders across the country and around the world have recognized the benefit of addressing global warming now. Congress should join in that effort.
Our world as we know it is in peril. We have a moral obligation to do all we can to solve this problem. And in the process, we will reinvigorate our economy with a sense of purpose that will unite the American people.
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