In remarks at the National Press Club, John Kerry challenged the Democratic Majority today to take bold approaches to solving our environmental crisis caused by Climate Change, when the Senate takes up the debate on the energy bill next week.
Kerry, who has been one of the top environmentalists in the Senate through out his career, urged President Bush, who is arriving at the G8 summit today, to reengage in a global effort to fight climate change abroad and to agree to firm limits on emissions rather than flexible goals.
Kerry also called on Congress in his speech to pass serious cap-and-trade legislation and reduce CO2 emissions. The text of John Kerry’s remarks, as prepared for delivery are below:
For years now, some in Washington have clung to any excuse or rationalization they could find—no matter how thin —to avoid confronting the imminent threat of climate change.
But last week, on the heels of President Bush saying that this is a serious issue, we reached a new low when Michael Griffin, the Administrator of NASA – the agency that oversees climate change science — offered a disturbing insight into what many of us have long feared is the true thinking of this Administration.
He said that while he acknowledges the existence of global warming, he’s not sure it’s fair to say that it’s “a problem we must wrestle with.” He said he isn’t sure which human beings should have – and these again are his words — “the privilege of deciding that this particular climate that we have right here today, right now, is the best climate for all other human beings.” He thinks it’s “arrogant” to think that the government should act on climate change.
I have news for Administrator Griffin. History will show that what’s “arrogant” is how this Administration ignores pleas from the world community, from Democratic and Republican governors, from CEOs of major corporations, from religious leaders of every denomination– to do something about climate change.
It’s not a “privilege” for this Administration to protect us from climate change—it’s an obligation. And anyone in power who thinks otherwise ought to have the “privilege” of being voted out of office or fired.
And yet, when it comes to energy independence and fighting climate change, neither the blame nor the burden for inaction falls on one party alone. Washington has never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
Even President Bush is now fond of saying that “America is addicted to oil.” But Washington’s preferred policy has been to feed the addiction; the government’s attitude on greenhouse gases has been to let them increase; Congress’s energy alternatives have been token; and again and again the partisan approach to crisis has been to denigrate the environment.
Last November Americans spoke out – the people know the truth: America is not addicted to oil because it wants to be. Washington has been addicted to oil because that’s the way powerful interests want it to be.
But the good news is that right now, this summer we have a chance to begin to get it right. In a single month, we could rewrite the shameful story of procrastination, manipulation and—most of all—failed leadership that has defined our energy policy for thirty years.
Here at home, the Democratic Senate has a chance to pass an energy bill that shapes our country’s energy policy and our research priorities for years to come. And overseas, at the G-8 conference in Germany, the President has a chance to remind the world of what America should always stand for by committing our country to concrete measures in the fight against climate change.
That is why today I’m calling on the President to do what’s right at the G-8 Summit in Germany. And I believe it is imperative that Congress—particularly we Democrats with a mandate for change—do what’s right here at home.
For Democrats, the energy bill coming to the floor of the Senate is a test of our will, and a question of whether we are serious about the responsibility we hold to govern differently, to deliver bold change—not warmed over offerings. Democrats took a majority of both houses in Congress because we promised to do things differently. We weren’t elected to be the party of Big Oil, only a little less obviously. We weren’t elected to be like Republican Congresses of the past, only a little more progressive. No — if we merely tinker around the edges of energy policy or climate change, or write an energy bill indistinguishable from the ones we criticized Republicans for passing— then we have not earned our majority.
The energy bill the last Congress passed was a hollow exercise masquerading as a new direction while giving the majority of the spoils to the same old special interests. It had no guiding national goal, no tough decisions, no change in priorities — just a collection of logrolling, back-scratching subsidies for any industry with the clout to get a seat at the table and a share of the pork. A few good ideas, a lot of bad ideas and ugly ideas–Washington smiled equally upon all of them.
It was the latest chapter in the long story in both parties of politics at its worst — ducking the difficult choices, giving into the big contributors, substituting words for deeds, postponing the reckoning until the day after tomorrow. If you offend no one, you change nothing. But the world is changing and now the reckoning is real.
The question now is what will our Democratic Congress offer to break with the past – what will we do to begin to break the oil addiction that leaves us at the mercy of hostile regimes in the Middle East and pushes the world ever closer to a global climate change tipping point that would be irreversible.
A serious energy bill must include three components: 1) a major increase in the efficiency of all sources and uses of energy, from pickup trucks to fluorescent light bulbs; 2) dramatic incentives for all renewable energy sources, including the requirement that at least 20% of our energy come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020; and 3) a comprehensive plan to get clean coal technologies and carbon sequestration off the drawing board and under construction.
First energy efficiency: improving fuel economy is the cornerstone of the strategy to reduce our reliance on imported oil. Since America’s second oil crisis in 1980, our oil imports have increased from 37% to 56%, but our passenger fleet averages 25 miles per gallon (mpg), the same as in 1981.
And there’s no reason for it. But don’t take my word for it — the National Academy of Sciences found that existing engine technologies were cheap enough to pay for themselves over the life of a vehicle and could enhance fuel economy by 8 to 11 mpg with no net cost to consumers.
This is happening right now. Today there’s a company in Massachusetts that has developed the technology for a plug-in hybrid car that gets 150 miles per gallon. The average American’s commute is less than 30 miles roundtrip— and this car can travel that far without any meaningful contribution from a combustion engine. Just think of the fuel savings if the average commute required almost no fuel.
Senator McCain and I first proposed a 35 mpg increase to fuel standards in 2002, and I’ve supported efforts to move in this direction for my entire Senate career. However, the current version of this energy bill includes loopholes that may allow automakers to avoid increasing the average fuel economy as much as they claim to. And anything less than a guaranteed 35 miles per gallon over the next decade is unacceptable
But it’s not just our automobiles that need to be more efficient. It’s our buildings too. You want to know why green buildings matter? Look at the Texas Instruments building in Dallas. To save enough money to justify building their new plant in Texas instead of India or China, they built green. And you know what happened? They’re saving $3 million per year on water and energy, bringing a $14.5 billion boost to Texas’ economy, and creating over 88,000 permanent jobs.
Second, this energy bill currently offers no mandate for renewable energy production. Over the last five years, 24 states and the District of Columbia have implemented local requirements that 20% of our energy come from renewable sources by the year 2020. And yet Republicans continue to stand in the way of a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard. States are screaming for leadership on this issue, and I will once again fight for an aggressive renewable portfolio standard in this bill.
Finally, this energy bill doesn’t adequately address our number one source of energy: coal. Coal is available, abundant and cheap, that’s true—but it’s also a huge source of US greenhouse gas emissions –1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year.
Why is clean coal so important? Because if we even stand a prayer at addressing climate change, we have no choice but to get serious about cleaning up coal. In the last 250 years, carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have risen from 270 parts per million to 370—higher today than at any time in the past 150,000 years. And carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a century or more, trapping the sun’s heat and warming the planet.
Scientists tell us that we have to keep CO2 concentration below 450 parts per million – which corresponds to an increase of 2 degrees Celsius—to avoid a large scale catastrophe. And we only have ten years in which to act. But unless we take dramatic action, we’re expected to reach 600-700 parts per million by the year 2100. With the emissions already in the atmosphere and those we can’t hope to prevent, the window is already closing on us—there’s no room for error here.
This is urgent. And it’s not being driven by politics—it’s being driven by facts and by the alarms that scientists across the planet are sounding today. This energy bill is inseparable from climate change because better energy policy is at the heart of any serious solution to climate change.
And so any energy bill worth the paper it’s printed on should make dramatic investments in developing technologies for clean coal – on the order of a billion dollars a year. MIT recently introduced a ground-breaking study calling for a dramatically expanded effort to develop carbon capture and sequestration –or CCS—technology. They say that CCS will allow us to use coal to meet our energy needs without sabotaging our efforts to fight climate change.
But like so many great ideas, we haven’t tested CCS on a scale commensurate to the size of the problem. We need large-scale demonstration projects with government support, and massive funding for research so that we can reclaim the most readily available energy assets we have for the 21st century economy. I will be introducing legislation – which I will also offer as an amendment to the energy bill – that will pave a path for a clean coal future.
Those are the steps Democrats must take. And we must have the courage to do something that Democrats have not done as boldly as we should have: stand up to big oil.
We need to use this energy bill to dramatically increase the number of tools in our arsenal to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions —because climate policy is energy policy and vice versa We should be massively increasing our investment in wind, solar, and other renewable electricity sources. We should promote the purchase of cleaner vehicle fleets, and we should be supporting green buildings.
And how can we pay for this bold new plan? Last time I checked, Big Oil’s profits were hitting historic highs. In fact, big oil companies have pocketed $255 billion in profits since the start of 2005. This…on top of the billions in tax breaks and sweetheart deals President Bush and his oil buddies in Congress have delivered. At the same time American consumers are paying record prices at the pump. Enough is enough. Even President Bush has said that some of the tax breaks should go. The CEO’s of big oil say they’re unnecessary. What’s stopping us in the Senate from acting? I have a bill that would roll back the subsidies for big oil, saving over $20 billion dollars. This is about priorities. Honestly, which do you think is more important? Voters ought to be asking every member of Congress for an honest answer.
Once we pass a serious energy bill, we must also bring a cap-and-trade bill to reduce C02 emissions to the Senate floor. Olympia Snowe and I have proposed a bill that does just that—the most aggressive bipartisan legislation introduced to date. For too long, Democrats have been part of the problem. Now we have the power in Congress to drive a real solution. And Democrats need to stand up and be counted.
The second major opportunity we have is unfolding in Europe at the G-8 Summit, where the President could follow up on his promises from last week with specifics that will transform our nation from the world’s laggard to the world’s leader in the fight against climate change. I’m pleased to see that President Bush is now taking the first tentative steps, which his top environmental advisor describes as “aspirational goals.” Good intentions are welcome, but we need mandatory caps too.
The President last week called for an international dialogue on climate change. He’s apparently so new to this issue that he doesn’t even realize that we already have one – over ten years ago we signed onto the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. This isn’t the time for talk, it’s the time for action. We can’t let the President use the cover of conversation to weather the G-8 and punt this problem to the next Administration.
As the G-8 summit convenes today, President Bush should sit down with Chancellor Merkel and the other world leaders and agree to work inside the established international framework to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions. He should agree to personally represent the US at the upcoming meeting in Bali and engage in negotiations with the leaders of developed and developing nations to secure their buy-in going forward. That’s what real leadership worthy of the American people would look like and we should demand nothing less.
We should be driving the process to create a new international agreement to replace the flawed Kyoto treaty – and that process should begin today at the G-8 summit.
It’s time for those of us who are serious about fighting climate change to take the next step toward decisive action: pass a bold and visionary energy bill at home, enact serious cap-and-trade legislation to reduce domestic CO2 emissions, and reengage in a global effort to fight climate change abroad.
This won’t be easy, and it won’t happen on the cheap. But, as John F Kennedy once told a crowd at Rice University in Texas, “We choose to go to the moon in this decade …., not because [it is] easy, but because [it is] hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win”
Great challenges bring greatness to those who master them, and either through the ferocity of our fight or the weakness of our willpower, this will be the challenge that defines us. I choose to fight. So for the second time in our history let’s declare and win our independence. This time not from foreign rule but from foreign oil. If we are as Lincoln said the “last best hope of Earth,” let’s stop being the denier of global warming that endangers the Earth. Let’s give our people back the truth, and let’s give the world back its future.