BALTIMORE, Md. – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.), top Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee (EPW), gave the kickoff speech at the organizer training for a nationwide canvassing campaign being run this summer by U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. P.I.R.G.) and Environment America. The grassroots campaign will be building support for policy action to reduce ocean-borne plastic pollution, fight climate change, protect endangered species and advance sustainable agriculture. Senator Carper underscored how these urgent problems affect people and ecosystems in Delaware and throughout the country and highlighted examples of environmental achievements accomplished by Democrats and Republicans working together.
“It is inspiring to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic and dedicated young environmentalists who care deeply about our planet and want to protect it for future generations,” said Senator Carper. “Many years ago, as a young naval flight officer stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area preparing for my first of three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, I joined tens of thousands of Americans – many of them young just like you – to celebrate our country’s first-ever Earth Day. That was back when our rivers were on fire, factories spewed toxic fumes and industries polluted our air and water with impunity. Congress heard us loud and clear, and passed landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act that drove widespread improvements in public health and continue to reduce pollution today.”
Carper continued, “As I look out at all of you – a crowd of young, inspired individuals – I believe that we are on the brink of yet another watershed moment. We can use this momentum and desire for change to create smart policies that will save threatened species from extinction, advance our nation’s recycling industry, and take bold action on climate change. But we cannot do it alone - we must do it together.”
Below are Senator Carper’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery.
“Thank you, for that kind introduction - and thank you to Environment America and U.S. P.I.R.G. for inviting me here today to speak to you all as you prepare for your summer canvassing. It is inspiring to be surrounded by so many enthusiastic and dedicated young environmentalists who care deeply about our planet and want to protect it for future generations.
“I have been told that you will focus on several different campaigns this summer including wildlife, plastic pollution, and climate change. In my role as top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, these are all issues that I take seriously.
“As the senior senator from the lowest lying state in the country, I—along with my fellow Delawareans—understand all too well what’s at stake if we do not start taking better care of our planet now. And although Delaware is one of our smallest states – or as I say ‘the 49th largest’ - we happen to boast some of the most spectacular wildlife and natural places in the country.
“If we have any birders in the audience, then you’ll know that Delaware is one of the top places to see migratory birds on the eastern seaboard. Around this time last year, I visited the Prime Hook and Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuges on the Delaware Bay. I saw hundreds of Red Knots resting and fueling up before embarking on the final leg of their long trip from as far away as South America, all the way to the Arctic. I also had the precious opportunity to see bald eagles and piping plovers. It was a truly spectacular sight. At Bombay Hook alone, it’s estimated that around 100,000 birding enthusiasts visit every year to catch the spectacular sights of these birds in migration. That’s 100,000 people investing in our local communities and growing our economies.
“But Delaware isn’t just known for its wildlife on land—Delaware’s waters are also filled with spectacular wildlife. Next month, we’ll see tens of thousands of horseshoe crabs lay their eggs on the shores of the Delaware Bay. In fact, the Bay is the largest spawning ground for horseshoe crabs in the world. That’s what makes it the First State’s official marine animal. And if you time it just right, you might even be lucky enough to see a North Atlantic right whale off the coast. Our wildlife and natural resources don’t just make Delaware a beautiful place to live – they make it a great place to visit, work, and play. Delaware’s natural beauty fuels economic growth in birding, hunting and fishing.
“But in Delaware and in every state around the country, our wildlife is in trouble. When I participated in the 31st Annual Delaware Coastal Cleanup last fall, we collected 2.7 tons of trash, including plastic water bottles, straws, and take-out containers. This was from just one weekend of work along 68 miles of coastline.
“Sadly, 2.7 tons of trash collected last year in Delaware pales in comparison to what we are seeing across the world. Some of you may have heard of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which now covers a surface area 250 times larger than Delaware and contains a whopping 80,000 tons of trash. This incredible amount of waste has lifelong devastating effects on marine life. Just a few weeks ago, a whale in Italy washed ashore with more than 50 pounds of plastic in its stomach. As we hear more and more tragic stories of whales and other marine life washing up on our shores due to the scourge of plastic waste, we are also hearing about how microplastics – too small to see with the naked eye – are now found in even the smallest creatures in the deepest depths of the sea. As our oceans teem with plastics, we’re seeing our everyday trash make its way up the marine food chain and onto our dinner plates.
“Some of our most frequent agricultural practices also continue to threaten our ecosystems on land. Experts are concerned that some chemicals used in farming may be threatening the existence of pollinators like bees and butterflies. We all know how important pollinators are for our environment. The plants that depend on them make up more than one-third of our planet’s crop production. Pollinators, like honeybees, are major contributors to our Agricultural Industry- which is one of the leading economic industries in Delaware, accounting for more than $8 billion in economic activity annually. If we don’t clean up our act, we’ll lose these pollinators, which would put much of our country’s agriculture industry at risk.
“On top of the dramatic increase of waste winding up in our oceans and habitats, wildlife is also dealing with the very real impacts of climate change. Climate change is the greatest threat facing our planet today. In Delaware, we see its grave impacts every day- from eroding coastlines and beaches to more extreme weather conditions to the decline of biodiversity. In one way or another, we have all seen the effects of climate change firsthand.
“All of these challenges require swift, bold action. If we want to protect our wildlife and environment for generations to come, we need to be thinking boldly and generating big ideas. And I encourage all of you to think big. But just as importantly, I encourage you match that big thinking with small actions.
“If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in Congress, it’s that big change is fueled by the consistent, sustained efforts of individuals working together every day. My constituents want us to work toward principled compromises – to make progress anywhere we can. In my early days in the Senate I met with Senator Ted Kennedy, and I asked him, ‘Why do so many Republicans want to work with you?’ He said, ‘I’m willing to compromise on policy; I’m never willing to compromise on principle’ And I’ve just taken that to heart. And with President Trump in the White House, we have to work together to achieve progress wherever possible.
“I’m particularly proud to say that one of those areas of progress was the passing of the only major bipartisan and bicameral infrastructure bill last congress: America’s Water Infrastructure Act. Along with the Chairman of the EPW Committee, John Barrasso of Wyoming, I worked alongside Democrats and Republicans in both the Senate and House to pass a bill that delivers for all Americans by making smart investments in critical water infrastructure that every family in every state rely on, such as drinking water systems, dams, reservoirs, levees, and ports. The bill passed by unanimous consent in the House, 99-1 in the Senate, and was signed into law by the President in October of 2018. In that bill, we also reauthorized the Safe Drinking Water Act for the first time in 22 years.
“Another area that receives quite a bit of bipartisan support is a bill I have worked on for quite some time: the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, or otherwise known as DERA. DERA is a cost-effective program that helps finance the replacement of older diesel engines with cleaner, American-made technology. Dirty diesel engine emissions are some of the biggest contributors to our nation’s smog, soot and black carbon air pollution. In fact, black carbon has 1,000 times the greenhouse effect than carbon dioxide. And, as we explore ways we can work together to clean our air and address climate change while creating jobs, this bipartisan legislation is a great example of how we can do just that. The DERA program is so successful that every dollar invested in DERA generates a 13-fold return in health and economic benefits.
“Many years ago, I worked with a Republican – my dear friend Senator Voinovich – to get this bill across the finish line, and now it’s not every day that an environmental initiative garners this much support from such a broad range of stakeholders and lawmakers. Now, I work with Senator Jim Inhofe, a Republican from Oklahoma, to continue the bipartisan spirit of this legislation and am proud to see it supported through the EPW committee just last week.
“While working together to create change on a bipartisan level does not happen overnight, it is certainly a step in the right direction. Furthermore, it’s change that was made possible by the hard work of individuals – Republicans and Democrats - working together over several years. That’s why I think we should keep working hard to find points of agreement. There’s no reason to let the perfect be the enemy of the good. Just like how our plastic pollution crisis wasn’t created overnight - similarly, it’s not a problem that we’ll be able to fix in short order.
“But if we work together, we can and will a make a lasting difference. That’s why I co-founded the Recycling Caucus in 2006 with former Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican from Maine. Since my time as Governor, I’ve believed that recycling is key to preserving our natural resources, keeping trash out of our rivers and oceans, and protecting wildlife. Since then, I have been working as co-chair of the Caucus – along with my Republican colleague Senator Boozman of Arkansas – to educate Senators and the public on the need to improve our recycling processes throughout America. We hold briefings and roundtables to talk to stakeholders from every part of the recycling industry to prove that recycling isn’t an impediment to economic growth. In many instances, it creates jobs and boosts local economies, all while reducing waste and energy consumption.
“I think all of us would like to see bigger, faster improvements to our environment, and the pace of change can certainly be frustrating and slow. But I can promise you, if we work hard, work together, and work to leverage points of consensus rather than points of disagreement, we will continue to make progress.
“Many years ago, as a young naval flight officer stationed in the San Francisco Bay Area preparing for my first of three tours of duty in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War, I joined tens of thousands of Americans – many of them young just like you – to celebrate our country’s first-ever Earth Day. That was back when our rivers were on fire, factories spewed toxic fumes and industries polluted our air and water with impunity. Congress heard us loud and clear, and passed landmark laws like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act that drove widespread improvements in public health and continue to reduce pollution today.
“As I look out at all of you – a crowd of young, inspired individuals – I believe that we are on the brink of yet another watershed moment. We can use this momentum and desire for change to create smart policies that will save threatened species from extinction, advance our nation’s recycling industry, and take bold action on climate change. But we cannot do it alone- we must do it together.
“And as I leave you here today to finish your dedicated training for this summer, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite African proverbs: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ And I think if we go together, we can make a real difference.”