WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee held a hearing titled: “Building Back Better: Addressing Climate Change in the Electricity Sector and Fostering Economic Growth.” Below is the opening statement of Chairman Tom Carper (D-Del.), as prepared for delivery:
“Experts talk about climate change in technicalities like ‘parts per million’ or ‘carbon dioxide equivalent.’ Get beyond these terms, though, and the reality is more severe and the urgency apparent.
“In Texas last month, that reality hit home. An estimated 4.5 million Texans lost power, some stranded for days on end in the freezing cold without heat or running water. Families literally froze to death. Some were poisoned by carbon monoxide, some trapped in home fires.
“Overall, the crisis took the lives of 80 people, and the estimated damages to people’s homes, businesses, and livelihoods are expected to reach over $90 billion. It’s heartbreaking and it never should have happened in this country.
“It’s clear that Texas was ill-prepared for the unusually frigid temperatures. Gas-fired power plants, a nuclear reactor, coal plants, some wind turbines, and natural gas wellheads all succumbed to temperatures they were unprepared for.
“This wasn’t the first time we’ve seen devastation fueled by climate change and sadly, it won’t be the last.
“As we’ll hear from Mr. Rusco later, a report released this morning by the Government Accountability Office found that climate change is expected to have far-reaching effects on the electricity grid that could cost the American people tens of billions of dollars in damages and power outages like the devastation we saw in Texas.
“But a future of more suffering from climate change is not written in stone. We can invest in a cleaner, more resilient electric sector. As our president says, we need to build back better.
“A judge once asked Willie Sutton, a notorious bank robber during the Great Depression, ‘Mr. Sutton, why do you rob banks?’ He replied, ‘Because that’s where the money is.’ When people ask me, ‘Why we need to reduce power sector climate emissions,’ I say, ‘Because that’s where a good deal of the emissions are.’
“As it turns out, the electricity sector is the second-largest driver of climate change in our country. Transportation is the first, responsible for 28 percent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions; electricity is the second, the source of 27 percent of the nation’s total emissions; and industry is the third, accounting for 22 percent.
“If want a cleaner, safer planet—and we do—we have to make the reduction of electric power emissions a top priority.
“President Obama understood this. That’s why he set national targets to reduce power plant emissions by 32 percent below 2012 levels.
“The Clean Power Plan was crafted after taking and responding to 4.3 million public comments and working with local leaders and stakeholders.
“But, there were plenty of critics who argued that these national targets were too ambitious. President Trump agreed, and he repealed the Clean Power Plan and replaced it with an unambitious, illegal plan that was ultimately thrown out by the courts.
“It turns out the critics could not have been more wrong about the Clean Power Plan. American utilities are already far surpassing its goals. We’ll hear soon from one of our witnesses, Mr. Fowke from XCEL Energy, about how his company is on track to reduce 85 percent of its carbon emissions by 2030.
“This move toward clean energy didn’t happen by chance. State and local programs are driving the energy markets and utility decisions to go clean.
“Today, 30 states have adopted a mandatory renewable or clean energy standard for their electricity sectors. Fourteen of them have plans in place to transition to 100 percent renewable or zero-emissions energy.
“Dozens of utility companies have pledged to decarbonize their electricity in the coming decades—forty percent of American households are now served by utilities that have pledged to completely decarbonize by 2050.
“This is encouraging progress. But the only way we can get to a truly clean and safe electricity sector is if we come together and chart a lasting, bipartisan path forward.
“Like President Biden, when I hear the words ‘clean energy,’ the words that come to mind for me are ‘job creation.’
“Clean energy can create millions of good-paying jobs, strengthen our economy, and build a more sustainable future for our children and our grandchildren.
“We have a real opportunity to make this happen for the American people. Let’s not let them down.”