Sen. Smith Demands Urgent Action on Climate Change in Floor Speech

WASHINGTON, D.C. [12/06/18]—Today, U.S. Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.), in a speech on the Senate floor, demanded urgent action to combat climate change and spoke out against Trump Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) nominee Bernard McNamee’s troubling environmental record.

Citing evidence from the latest National Climate Assessment, Sen. Smith pointed to threats to Minnesota if temperatures continue to rise. You can watch Sen. Smith’s speech here.

“The problems of a changing climate are already known to us Minnesotans,” said Sen. Smith. “Our winters are milder than they used to be. We know that rain patterns are changing. We are prone to long hot, dry spells in the summer, but when the rains do come, they are more intense. Storms bringing more than six inches of rain used to be extremely rare, but now Minnesota suffers more than almost anywhere else in the country from a climate-driven increase in “mega-rain events.”

Sen. Smith, a member of the Energy Committee, has championed several energy and environmental bills, including bipartisan legislation to fund environmental conservation on military bases, which was recently signed into law by the President. In August, Sen. Smith introduced legislation to increase America’s energy storage capabilities and help expand the role that renewable energies like wind and solar play in the nation’s energy portfolio. Sen. Smith’s bill (the “Advancing Energy Storage Act”) was featured at a hearing in the Energy Committee last week.

You can read a copy of Sen. Smith’s remarks as prepared for delivery below:

Floor Statement on Climate Change and FERC nominee Bernard McNamee

M. President.

I rise today to discuss the urgency of addressing climate change and I will also address the nomination of Mr. Bernard McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which we’re debating on the Senate Floor today.

Recently, the Trump Administration released the latest installment of the National Climate Assessment. This report is the work of over 300 expert scientists and 13 different government agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of Energy, NASA, and others.

The report makes an urgent case for action by detailing the extreme threat posed to our nation and to our world by climate change. The need for forward-looking environmental and energy policies will be obvious to anyone who reads the report. And it is telling that this report is mandated in a law signed by the late President George H.W. Bush in 1990.

The Administration doesn’t want to talk about the report’s findings, but the problems of a changing climate are already known to us Minnesotans. Our winters are milder than they used to be. Rain patterns are changing.

We are prone to long hot, dry spells in the summer, but when the rains do come, they are more intense. Big storms used to be rare, but now Minnesota suffers more than almost anywhere else in the country from the climate-driven increase in “mega-rain events.”

When it rains 6, 8, or even 10 inches all at once, houses flood. Fields flood. The water can’t run off or soak into the soil fast enough. As Minnesota’s Lieutenant Governor, and now as Senator, I have seen the consequences. Without action on climate change, this problem will get worse.

Even to those who have long accepted the scientific consensus on climate change, the new report makes for sobering reading. The assessment tells us that if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated, quote: “the Midwest is projected to have the largest increase in extreme temperature-related premature deaths.” By 2090, the Midwest can expect 2,000 additional deaths per year due to heat alone. That’s more than any other region of the country.

Minnesota is a vital contributor to the world’s food supply. We rank fourth in the country in corn production and it is our #1 agricultural commodity. In 2017, Minnesota farmers produced 4.5 billion dollars of corn on eight million acres, but that agricultural productivity is threatened by climate change.  

The problem going forward is that corn does not tolerate extreme warm temperatures. Corn plants grow best at approximately 80 degrees, and above 95 degrees, reproductive failure is a risk.

U.S. corn yields per acre grew 60% from the 1980s to today. Because of warming temperatures, the climate assessment warns that we risk losing all of those gains by 2050. A world with nearly 10 billion people at mid-century will need American farmers to produce more than ever before.

But climate change threatens farmer’s ability to rise to that challenge. That is why I agree with the National Farmers Union, which says, quote: “we can’t wait for technology to solve climate change, we must take action now.”

We grow more than just corn in Minnesota. For example, the Anishinaabe people in my state harvest the world’s finest wild rice. But the climate assessment states that, quote: “declines in production are expected, related to increases in climate extremes and climate-related disease and pest outbreaks as well as northward shifts of favorable growing regions.” The loss of wild rice in Minnesota would be a cultural, ecological, and economic tragedy.

The climate assessment highlights the economic stakes—climate change threatens to reduce the size of the U.S. economy up to 10% by the end of this century, a loss of 100s of billions of dollars per year.

In response to the extreme challenge we face from climate change, I see two potential ways to respond. First, the path offered by Mr. McNamee. We could do nothing to acknowledge the problem.

As the Department of Energy’s Deputy General Counsel, Mr. McNamee pushed a dirty coal plant bailout that would have cost American consumers billions of dollars a year, with no discernable benefit for our energy system and a huge loss to our fight against climate change. That is why the proposal was rejected unanimously by the five FERC commissioners. Now Mr. McNamee is nominated to be one of those commissioners.

To avoid dealing with the climate change problem, Mr. McNamee has—like many in this Administration—decided that the first, best tactic is to deny that there is a problem.

In February of this year, Mr. McNamee spoke at a policy orientation for legislators in Texas. When asked about how his son and other students should react to being taught climate science in schools, Mr. McNamee said “just deny it. I don’t care if you get an F, I don’t care.”

I reject Mr. McNamee’s head-in-the-sand approach, which is fundamentally pessimistic about America’s ability to lead the fight against climate change by leading the clean energy revolution. I, by contrast, am an optimist.

The thing about the clean energy transition is that it is going to happen with or without American leadership. Between now and 2050, the world will invest 11.5 trillion dollars in building new electric generators.  Almost 9 in 10 of those dollars will be spent on renewables or other technologies with zero carbon emissions.

The U.S. should lead the way in developing, making, and deploying clean energy technology. However, China is leading the way in renewable energy investments, spending $127 billion in 2017, and outspending the U.S. by more than 3 to 1.

We know that Americans want to step up. California and Hawaii have put themselves on a path to 100% clean energy by 2050. And just this week, Xcel Energy, the largest utility in my state, pledged to deliver an 80% carbon dioxide emission reduction by 2030, with a goal of 100% emissions free electricity by 2050.

States, companies, and individuals can help lead the way, but that doesn’t take the Federal Government off the hook. We must pull together as a country, and the scale of the challenge requires national and international coordination and cooperation.

The U.S. can lead, or we can be left behind. We led the way during the fossil fuel revolution, and we were rewarded with world-leading prosperity. There is a new revolution happening. Mr. McNamee and President Trump both believe that we can prosper by doubling down on outdated thinking regarding energy and climate. But they are wrong.

I urge my colleagues to vote “no” on this nominee. It is the duty of us in Congress to push a clear-eyed but optimistic path forward, and not let misguided ideology leave us stuck in the past.

M. President, I yield the floor.