03.10.14

Floor Remarks Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) #Up4Climate Senate Floor

Nearly 30 years ago, I joined a good friend, the late Hub Vogelmann, a Republican congressman, a Democratic governor, and President Reagan’s EPA Administrator, on a hike to the summit of Vermont’s iconic peak, Camel’s Hump.  We had a goal in mind: to observe first-hand the effects of acid raid.  When we arrived at the summit, we saw the evidence we feared: a scar burned across the peaks of the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks, visible to the West.  Due to human action, weather patterns had changed, altering the very chemistry of rainfall on a grand scale.  As a result, we caused profound and large-scale damage to life sustaining ecosystems. 

There were Democrats and Republicans, scientists and bureaucrats on that mountain.  We returned to Washington, eager to address the problem.  It was not easy.  We had to overcome strong objections from industry and develop an entirely new cap-and-trade regulatory framework.  In the end, a Democratic majority in Congress passed, and Republican President George H.W. Bush signed into law, the Clean Air Act amendments. 

Once again, we are confronted with irrefutable evidence that humans have altered not just the weather of a region, but the climate of the entire planet.  This time, we do not need to climb mountains to see the damage.  We see it in New England’s flood ravaged river valleys, California’s scorched farmland, Alaska’s retreating glaciers, Wyoming’s burnt forests, and super-storm ravaged coastlines. 

Before we even get to the accumulated -- and accumulating -- scientific evidence for climate change and the carbonization of our fragile envelope of atmosphere, we only need to apply common sense.  As we look around us, anywhere, everywhere, and at any time, doesn’t it just stand to reason that human activity is contributing to documented changes in our atmosphere, and to climate change?  We deny our own reason and the evidence all around us to even try to argue otherwise.

The scientists have done their work:  We now better understand the human causes of climate change and we understand its profound and accelerating impact.  Unfortunately, too many policy makers deny the evidence, or refuse to cross political lines to solve the problem.  But it is time that we wake up and act on climate change.

We have taken some steps in the right direction.  This past summer, President Obama announced his Climate Action Plan to cut carbon pollution.  The Environmental Protection Agency has begun creating new carbon emission standards for future power plants.  The Department of Energy is working on ground-breaking energy technologies, and the Department of Transportation is studying transportation planning to address future risks and vulnerabilities from extreme weather and climate change.  The Transportation Department is also addressing vehicle fuel efficiency which is saving vehicle owners and operators billions of dollars a year.  While these are all positive changes, it should concern us all that they are not nearly enough to address the problem at hand.  Congress needs to lift its blinders and wake up to this problem by enacting legislation that prioritizes renewable energy development, supports energy efficient technologies, and taxes carbon pollution.

It is time to take a stand against misguided policies and projects that put future generations at risk, and that includes the Keystone XL pipeline.   The State Department recently released its long-awaited environmental impact statement on the Keystone XL pipeline.  I am deeply troubled that the State Department’s analysis did not take into account the overwhelming evidence that this project will further accelerate the release of greenhouse gas pollution and intensify climate change.  There is a mountain of evidence that the carbon pollution, drinking water threats, public health threats, and safety threats from this pipeline are so great that it is not in our national interest, and its permit should be denied.  We must stand up to our addiction to fossil fuels and fight back against these threats to our land, water, air, and healthy communities around the world.

Some see climate change as simply an environmental issue.  It is not.  Creating a green energy sector is not just about cutting greenhouse gas emissions.  It is about providing jobs for Americans in the renewable energy and energy efficiency fields.  It is about strengthening national security by having greater control over our energy sources and breaking the stranglehold of oil on the transportation system.  It is about ensuring that our children and grandchildren have clean air to breathe.

We have come together before, across the aisle and across regions to solve large problems.  We must do so again.  We owe it to the planet and to future generations.

 

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