Senator Reid: It's Time to Stop Acting Like Climate Change Deniers Have a Valid Point Of View
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) spoke today at the National Clean Energy Summit 5.0: The Power of Choice. Below are his remarks as prepared for delivery:
Good morning, and welcome to the National Clean Energy Summit: The Power of Choice. I am pleased to once again host this important event with the support of the Center for American Progress, the Clean Energy Project, the MGM Resorts International and the UNLV.
Over the last four years, this summit has brought together investors, innovators, academics and policy makers dedicated to moving the clean energy industry forward.
There should be no one in this room who doubts the importance of reducing our reliance on fossil fuels—not only because it's good for the environment, but because it's good for the economy and good for national security.
We've already seen how incentives, funding and public-private partnerships have spurred job creation and innovation in this critical sector. This has been a ray of sunshine during the Great Recession.
It is easy to see the logic, the urgency and the opportunity of a clean energy revolution. That is why President Obama has fought hard to advance the policies that will reduce our reliance on oil and other fossil fuels, increase our production of clean energy and create good-paying jobs that can never be outsourced.
But his administration has waged an up-hill battle against moneyed special interests and their allies in Congress, who are invested in maintaining their sweetheart relationship with coal and oil companies.
As hard as it is to comprehend, there are still members of Congress resisting clean energy's American success story. And sadly they're doing their best to send clean energy industries and jobs overseas, and hindering the revolution in the process.
Twenty-five years ago, President George H.W. Bush promised to use the “White House effect” to combat the “greenhouse effect.” Yet a quarter century later, too many elected officials in Washington are still calling climate change a liberal hoax. They falsely claim scientists are still debating whether carbon pollution is warming the planet.
Of course, if those skeptics had taken a stroll along the Potomac River on a 70-degree day this February, they would have seen cherry trees blossoming earlier than at any time since they were planted 100 years ago. Washington experienced its warmest spring since record keeping began in 1895.
And back in the skeptics' home states, the harbingers of a changing climate are just as clear as those delicate February blossoms—and infinitely more perilous.
This year alone, the United States has seen unparalleled extreme weather events—events scientists say are exactly what is expected as the earth's climate changes.
The Midwest is experiencing its most crushing drought in more than half a century—or maybe ever. Presently, disasters have been declared in the majority of U.S. counties. More than half the country is experiencing drought, and seventy-five percent of the nation is abnormally dry this year.
Corn crops are withering and livestock are dying—or going to slaughter early—as heat waves parch America's breadbasket, breaking records set during the Woody Guthrie Dust Bowl years.
Now ravaging wildfires have replaced the dust storms of the 1930's. Devastating fires have swept New Mexico, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada and other parts of the Mountain West, destroying hundreds of homes and burning millions of trees. These fires are fed in part by vast areas of dead forest ravaged by beetles and other pests that now survive through warmer winters.
On the East Coast, extreme thunderstorms and high winds called “derechos”—literally meaning straight-line storms—have eliminated power for 4.3 million customers in 10 states in the mid-Atlantic region. One 38-year veteran of the utility industry told the New York Times this: “We've got the 'storm of the century' every year now.” At the height of this storm—while the power was out and the air conditioning wasn't working—the East Coast experienced record high temperatures.
Down south, the Mississippi River is nearly dry in various places, with shipping barges operating in only 5 feet of water. Just Friday, barges were grounded because the water level was so low. And New Orleans' water supply is now being threatened by salt water moving up the Mississippi due to extremely low water.
But while record drought has struck many parts of the United States, torrential rains have poured down in others. In June, the fourth tropical storm of the hurricane season—a season which typically begins in the fall—dropped 20 inches of rain on Florida.
And our nation's infrastructure is literally falling apart because it wasn't designed to withstand these conditions. Runways are melting, trapping planes. Train tracks are bending, derailing subways. Highways are cracking, buckling and breaking open. The water used to cool power plants—including nuclear power plants—has either run dry or reached dangerously high temperatures.
And that's just in the United States—just through the month of July.
Arctic sea ice is also at its lowest point in recorded history.
This month, the massive ice sheet atop Greenland experienced sudden and almost uniform melting—a phenomenon not seen in the modern age.
This spring, rain fell unexpectedly in Mecca despite 109-degree temperatures. It was the hottest downpour in the planet's recorded history.
The Amazon River Basin has experienced super-flooding—reaching record high levels due to long summer rains and greater than normal glacial melting.
Massive forest fires have swept Siberia.
Monsoons in Bangladesh left hundreds dead and nearly 7 million people homeless.
And last week more than 600 million people in India were without power. Late monsoons and record temperatures increased demand for electricity to irrigate crops and air condition homes, overloading the fragile power grid and causing the blackout.
Scientists say this is genesis—the beginning. The more extreme climate change gets, the more extreme the weather will get. In the words of one respected climate scientist: “This is what global warming looks like.”
Dozens of new reports from scientists around the globe link extreme weather to climate change. Not every flood or drought can be attributed to human-induced transformation of our planet's weather patterns. But scientists report that these extreme events are dozens of times more likely because of those changes.
The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American. A large majority of people finally believe climate change is real, and that it is the cause of extreme weather. Yet despite having overwhelming evidence and public opinion on our side, deniers still exist, fueled and funded by dirty energy profits.
These people aren't just on the other side of this debate. They're on the other side of reality.
It's time for us all—whether we're leaders in Washington, members of the media, scientists, academics, environmentalists or utility industry executives—to stop acting like those who ignore the crisis or deny it exists entirely have a valid point of view. They don't.
Virtually every respected, independent scientist in the world agrees the problem is real, and the time to act is now. Not tomorrow. Not a week from now. Not next month or next year. We must act today.
As Americans, we have the power to choose the kind of world in which we live. Every decision we make—large and small—matters. Some choices are as simple as turning off the light when you leave the room. Others are more ambitious—such as committing the Department of Defense, the largest energy consumer in the world, to transition to clean, renewable energy.
But every choice has benefits—or consequences.
About 50 miles north of Las Vegas, the Reid-Gardner coal-fired power plant is nestled in the pastoral Moapa Valley. Since it began operating during the Johnson Administration, Reid Gardner has burned tens of millions of tons of coal.
Each year for the last 47 years, more than 2.8 million tons of climate-changing carbon dioxide—not to mention thousands of pounds of toxins such as arsenic, mercury and lead—go up the plant's four giant smokestacks.
About two football fields away from those smoke stacks lives a band of 300 Moapa Paiute Indians. Every day Reid-Gardner rains down on the dwindling Native American tribe fine particulates and coal ash filled with chemicals that cause cancer, emphysema and heart problems.
The soot—and the dangerous chemicals inside it—is literally killing the Pauites.
It's no secret coal plants kill. Each year, more than 24,000 deaths are attributed to emissions from coal-fired power plants in the United States alone.
That's why it is time to close the dirty relic, Reid-Gardner.
Just imagine living two football fields from thousands of tons of poisons, ever present, always spewing their toxins on your home.
Every year we spend hundreds of millions of dollars buying coal from other states to burn in Nevada. It's time to make a different choice—a choice that brings new clean energy industries and jobs to Nevada. A choice to invest in our own natural resources.
The more dirty coal we use, the higher the price of coal gets. The more solar power we use, the cheaper it gets. Shutting down this one coal-fired power plant won't save the planet all at once—but it would save an Indian homeland.
A famous maxim says “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” For consumers, that step might be deciding to buy energy-efficient light bulbs, drive a next-generation vehicle or turn off the lights when you leave the room. For NV Energy, the first step should be deciding to turn out the lights on Reid-Gardner—and turn them out forever.
Our guests and speakers today will outline some of the other decisions that lie ahead.
Today my friend, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, will tell you what the federal government has already done to accelerate development of renewable energy offshore and on public lands.
The job-creation power of clean technology is on display in Nevada, where more than a dozen renewable energy facilities have been constructed on public lands.
This week Pattern Energy will dedicate the 150 megawatt Spring Valley Wind project. It is the first commercial wind project in Nevada, also located on federal land in White Pine County.
And dozens of geothermal wells on public lands power the cities of Reno and Sparks, in Northern Nevada.
Today you'll also hear from utility and renewable energy industry executives, scientists, educators and lawmakers about the combination of policies and incentives the government and the private sector can use to create jobs and expand clean technologies.
You'll hear from inventors of next-generation electric vehicles.
You'll hear from innovators with solutions to reduce our energy needs and meet our electricity demand without climate-changing fuels. They are helping to bring new technologies and products to market that give consumers more and better choices, and help them save money on their energy bills.
And you'll hear from President Bill Clinton—on the challenge—and the choice—facing every American—and facing our nation: how to grow our economy—and save the planet—at the same time.
Today's speakers and panels will lay out a path forward that may seem daunting, but is entirely achievable if we invest our collective effort. It's entirely achievable if we stop allowing deniers to frame the debate, and demonize clean energy for their own short-term, political gain.
After all, the technology to change course is not futuristic. It's available and affordable today. All we have to do is decide to use it.
The power of choice is in our hands. I urge you to choose the clean, safe and reliable path with me. Our future depends on it.
And now it's my honor to introduce a man who has always been a leader on clean energy issues. As a farmer and an environmental lawyer, Ken Salazar understands as well as anyone the challenges of climate change, and what it will take to address them. As a Senator, Ken had a vision to build an economy that relied on clean, renewable energy. And as Secretary of the Interior, Ken has led the effort to increase development of renewable resources on federal land. It is my pleasure to introduce my friend, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar.
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By Karen Charman
When President Donald Trump visited California on September 14 and dismissed the state Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot's plea to recognize the role of climate change in the midst of the Golden State's worst and most dangerous recorded fire season to date, he gaslighted the tens of millions of West Coast residents suffering through the ordeal.
Foxes Guarding the Henhouse<p>Before he assumed power, Trump attacked regulations as unnecessary barriers to freedom and economic prosperity. Since taking office, he has targeted anything enacted by the administration of his predecessor, Barack Obama, and taken steps to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement, the international effort to combat climate change. He has also staffed heads of key agencies with climate deniers of various stripes, forced out career public servants and created a hostile work environment for those who don't profess loyalty to his deregulatory agenda.</p><p>Like Trump himself, some of his cabinet choices displayed an audacious penchant for <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/09/27/us/donald-trump-taxes.html?action=click&module=Spotlight&pgtype=Homepage" target="_blank">self-dealing</a> and abusing their positions of authority. One example is Trump's first Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator, Scott Pruitt, who aggressively worked to overturn Obama's climate regulations, spent most of his time in <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/trump-epa-head-steps-down-after-wave-of-ethics-management-scandals/2018/07/05/39f4251a-6813-11e8-bea7-c8eb28bc52b1_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">private meetings</a> with fossil fuel and chemical company executives, sidelined career EPA staff and reconfigured independent scientific advisory boards to make them more supportive of the industries EPA is charged with regulating. Dubbed "<a href="https://www.latimes.com/politics/la-na-pol-pruitt-leaves-20180705-story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of the most scandal-plagued Cabinet officials in U.S. history</a>," Pruitt resigned in disgrace after revelations about his multiple brazen abuses, including using the agency as his personal concierge service and piggy bank.</p><p>Pruitt's deputy, Andrew Wheeler, a <a href="https://www.cbsnews.com/news/andrew-wheeler-acting-epa-administrator-former-number-two-before-scott-pruitt-resignation/" target="_blank">former coal industry lobbyist</a> and longtime Republican Washington insider, took over and has continued Trump's deregulatory agenda apace.</p><p>At the Department of Interior (DOI), a sprawling agency that oversees 75 percent of the country's public federal lands and includes the U.S. Geological Survey, which is tasked with evaluating natural hazards that threaten life and the health of our ecosystems, Trump installed another flamboyant anti-environmentalist to head the agency. Like Pruitt, Trump's first Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke aggressively attacked environmental regulations, <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2017/05/07/epa-dismisses-half-of-its-scientific-advisers-on-key-board-citing-clean-break-with-obama-administration/" target="_blank">ditched more than 200 advisory panels</a>, and pushed to open up vast swaths of public land to oil and gas drilling. Described by one environmental group as "<a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/interior-secretary-zinke-resigns-amid-investigations/2018/12/15/481f9104-0077-11e9-ad40-cdfd0e0dd65a_story.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the most anti-conservation Interior secretary in our nation's history</a>," Zinke was forced out after numerous highly publicized conflict-of-interest scandals.</p><p>The DOI is now run by Zinke's deputy secretary, David Bernhardt, another longtime Republican Washington insider and former oil industry lobbyist who has also been the subject of <a href="https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2020/05/this-is-still-happening-david-bernhardt-trump-lincoln.html" target="_blank">several government ethics complaints</a> for various violations favoring polluting industries.</p><p>More recently, longtime climate change denier David Legates, a climatologist at the University of Delaware previously <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/19032015/u-delaware-refuses-disclose-funding-sources-its-climate-contrarian" target="_blank">funded by fossil fuel interests</a>, was hired for a <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/12/912301325/longtime-climate-science-denier-hired-at-noaa" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">top job</a> advancing weather modeling and prediction at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Legates has called for <a href="https://www.democracynow.org/2020/9/18/noaa_david_legates_climate_crisis" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">increasing carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>The Trump administration has done much more than stack government agencies with fossil fuel industry proponents. It has removed or diluted discussion of climate change from as many government platforms as it can and decimated independent scientific advisory boards that provide unbiased, fact-based information the government needs to enact policies that protect the public. It has also <a href="https://thehill.com/policy/energy-environment/482352-trump-budget-slashes-funding-for-epa-environmental-programs" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">slashed environmental agency staffing and budgets</a>.</p>
The Damage So Far<p>A September 17 <a href="https://rhg.com/research/the-rollback-of-us-climate-policy/" target="_blank">report</a> by the Rhodium Group calculates that 1.8 billion tons more greenhouse gases will be released over the next 15 years as a result of climate change rollbacks the Trump administration has achieved so far. These include repealing Obama's main climate policy, the Clean Power Plan, which was intended to reduce dirty emissions from power plants; increasing pollution from cars by rolling back fuel economy standards and challenging California's longtime authority to set stricter emissions standards; targeting controls on hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases used mainly in refrigerators and air conditioners that also destroy the Earth's protective ozone layer; and allowing unreported and unregulated emissions of methane, another potent greenhouse gas, by oil and gas companies.</p><p>Besides these measures, Trump is also trying to gut core environmental statutes like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act, all of which were enacted to protect human health and preserve a livable world.</p><p>The Paris agreement aims to keep the rise in average global temperatures at less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and hopefully cap it at 1.5 degrees C or lower. We are now at approximately 1.2 degrees C and counting.</p>
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Potential Climate Voters<p>In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."</p><p>Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."</p><p>Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:</p><p>"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.<br>A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."</p><p>… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.</p><p>"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.</p><p><span></span>"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."</p>
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx<p>So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.</p><p>Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">CIRCLE</a>, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.</p><p>The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.</p><p>He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."</p><p>In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.</p><p>CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.</p><p>The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.</p>
Tying Climate Change to the Economy<p>In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.</p><blockquote>Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'<br></blockquote><p>It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for <a href="https://circle.tufts.edu/latest-research/poll-young-people-believe-they-can-lead-change-unprecedented-election-cycle" target="_blank">Data for Progress</a>. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.</p><p>"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.</p><p>"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.</p><p>So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.</p><p>At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."</p><p>"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."</p><p>Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.</p><p>Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.</p><p>"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.</p><p>"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."</p>
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