Sanders Remarks to Climate Change Conference

CQ/Roll Call Climate Change Conference
Tuesday, October 20
Ronald Reagan International Trade Center

Thank you for inviting me to join you today to talk about our efforts in the United States Senate to address global warming. As a Member of the Energy Committee and the Environment Committee, and Chairman of the Green Jobs Subcommittee, I believe very strongly that it is long past time for our nation to act.

The science is clear.

In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the climate is warming, and that human activity is a key cause. In the two years since, the science continues to be clear that impacts are increasing. In fact, what we are hearing from key scientists is that the situation is far more dire than they had previously believed. As Secretary of Energy Chu pointed out in recent testimony to the Environment Committee, we face a distinct possibility of up to 11 degrees Fahrenheit average temperature increase globally in this century. This clearly would be catastrophic in terms of flooding, draught, extreme weather disturbances, disease and national security issues.  Interestingly, with regard to the latter, the CIA has stated that global warming, and the international tensions that it will cause as countries fight over scarce resources, is going to be a major national security issue.

Let me be very honest with you, I do not know nor does anybody else what the final outcome of the global warming legislation will look like, or whether or not it will even be passed. Clearly there are a lot of conservative forces in this country in the oil industry, in the coal industry, and right-wing politicians, who do their best to see that nothing happens. But here is the problem, the global warming issue is different than any other issue, in the sense that you cannot simply cut the differences in half, reach a compromise, and pass something that everybody feels ok about. Global warming is not a “political issue.” It is an issue of science and physics, and according to the most knowledgeable scientists in the world, if we do not act and act boldly, the impact on this planet will be disastrous. So the difficulty is, that if Congress does pass something, and if that something is weak, it may not make a heck of a lot of difference in the long run.

So it is clear we need to act. As you all know, the House of Representatives passed global warming legislation this past summer.  In the Senate, we are now taking up legislation introduced by Senators Kerry and Boxer.  I want to take a moment and sum up some of the reasons I think the Kerry/Boxer bill is a step in the right direction.

I also want to say this, while strong global warming legislation, which to my mind has to emphasize energy efficiency and a bold move to such sustainable energies as wind, solar, geothermal, and biomass, and others, will cause some economic dislocation, I do not agree with the pessimists who see this energy transition as doom and gloom. Quite the contrary. At a time when we are spending hundreds of billions of dollars every year importing oil from foreign countries around the world, I see extraordinary potential in terms of job creation and the movement toward energy independence when we invest that money at home. Long-term, this is an absolute winner and the potential is sitting right there in front of us now. Further, in addition to energy efficiency and sustainable energy, there are enormous opportunities in front of us in terms of mass transportation, and a movement to hybrid plug-in and electric cars.

Let me remind people who might say that the vision I am outlining is too radical, I want you to think about December 8th, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, when President Roosevelt declared war against Japan. Within a year and a half after that date, the United States had transformed its economy so that for all intent and purposes it was clear that we were going to win the war in Europe and the war in Asia. We did that in a year and a half in the early 1940’s. So please do not tell me that in the year 2009 with all of the advanced technology out there that this country cannot lead the world in transforming our energy system, of course we can and of course we must.

 For starters, the Kerry-Boxer bill requires a 20% emissions reduction over 2005 levels by 2020 (better than House’s 17%).

While still not as strong as I would like to see, this is an important improvement. I should note that the Energy Information Administration has already projected that carbon dioxide emissions will have be 8.5% below 2005 levels by the end of 2009. In addition McKinsey, a consulting firm, has found in a recent report that we could meet most of our greenhouse gas reduction target through energy efficiency at a net savings of $700 billion to U.S. businesses and consumers. So a 20% reduction is achievable and could be done while saving on our energy bills and creating hundreds of thousands of new jobs in energy efficiency.

Second, Kerry-Boxer does not take away EPA’s Clean Air Act Authority and Reduces International Offsets. We have to ensure that the oldest and dirtiest power plants are cleaned up or shut down.  The House bill contained a number of provisions, such as offsets and banking of allowances, that would allow conventional power plants to continue to pollute for a decade or more without adopting new pollution reduction technologies. If EPA retains its Clean Air Act authority, we can ensure that these plants are not given a free ride and are required to reduce emissions, as they would be under current law. By reducing international offsets from 1 billion tons per year in the House bill to half a billion tons in the Senate bill, we ensure that we achieve emissions reduction in the U.S. and do not outsource our obligations.

Finally, the bill does more for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency.

The Kerry-Boxer bill has a number of key provisions for renewable energy and energy efficiency, including providing support for utility-scale renewable power such as solar thermal and wind. It also has provisions to train workers for green jobs, give local governments funding for energy efficiency projects, and provide states with resources to move forward on sustainable energy projects such as district energy where plants can produce electricity and heat for hundreds of buildings in an efficient manner. I have strongly supported all of these provisions and worked with the Committee and Chairman Boxer to ensure that they are an integral part of the bill.

It is clear that we need action here in this country and action across the world. I am hopeful that as we move forward with our legislative process here, nations around the world realize that the United States is back and ready to play a leading role again in addressing key international challenges such as global warming.

I have been fighting hard to ensure that as this bill moves through the Environment Committee, we continue to strengthen it, we continue to work to increase support for sustainable energy and energy efficiency. I want to see a bill that has strong carbon market regulations, and prevents Wall Street from earning billions by speculating. I want to see a bill that helps our nation achieve an energy revolution. I want to see a bill that creates green jobs and generates wind and solar  and electric vehicle manufacturing in the United States. 

I am firmly committed to taking action and I believe we have taken a good first step with the Kerry-Boxer bill. I look forward to strengthening it, passing it, and seeing other nations take action to address the challenge of global warming.