November 28, 2014
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Whitehouse outlines battle plan to convince Congress of climate change
Beacon photo by Jennifer Rodrigues
PREACHING TO THE CLIMATE CHANGE CHOIR: Senator Sheldon Whitehouse was the keynote speaker for Friday’s EPA Climate Leaders Summit, where he told regional leaders in environmental, business and government that Congress is close to “waking up” and taking action on climate change.

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse laid out a three-step battle plan to get Congress to address climate control at a Climate Leaders Summit hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Friday.

Whitehouse was the keynote speaker at the event hosted by Johnson & Wales University (JWU) at its Harborside Campus in Providence. In addition to the EPA, the six New England states, the Consensus Building Institute, JWU, and the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission hosted the summit. It was attended by regional leaders in the environmental, business, federal, state and local government sectors, and was invitation only.

Introducing Whitehouse, Janet Coit, director of Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management (RIDEM), applauded the senator for being a leader in the climate change debate in Congress. Not only does he push climate-related legislation such as a carbon fee, but also he speaks about the topic on the Senate floor every chance he gets, preparing to make his 50th speech on the topic this week.

“Honestly, no one was talking about it much before he started to do that. When he started to go down there with his facts and his charts, people started to take notice. And other senators started to join him,” said Coit. “He has created a standard and changed the conversation about climate change in Washington, D.C.”

Whitehouse began by sharing his thoughts on the impact of climate change on the New England Region, and how the effects are undeniable.

He cited increased changes in rainfall, storms, daytime high temperatures, and water temperatures.

“We are the Ocean State and climate change is hitting us in ways that it does not take a computer model to see,” he said.

He said the sea level has risen 10 inches and the temperature of Narragansett Bay is three to four degrees higher, which may not seem like much but is actually a full eco-system shift. Whitehouse also added computer models are not needed to show these changes; high school science labs could determine them with thermometers and rulers.

“These observed changes are not the product of complicated models or projections; they’re determined by measurement, plain and simple measurement,” he said, going on to call out opponents to climate change, the “climate deniers.”

“It’s one thing for my opponents in the Senate and in the House to be the party that is against science. It is an even farther mark to be the party that is against measurement,” he said.

Whitehouse called the inaction in Congress regarding climate change irresponsible, and it is not just the leaders in the field who believe so.

“Eighty-two percent of Americans believe we should start preparing now for rising sea levels and severe storms brought on by climate change,” said Whitehouse. “And if you drill down to young voters, if you look at the voters who are the cohort that is going to come up and take this country in the coming decades, clearly they see through the phony climate denial message.”

Whitehouse said three-quarters of independent young voters support action on climate change, and 52 percent of self-identified Republican young voters under the age of 35 have described climate deniers as “ignorant,” “out of touch” or “crazy.”

“If you’re the party that is banking on climate denial as your strategy in response to carbon pollution, and your own young voters think that that strategy is ignorant, out of touch, or crazy, in a majority, you’ve got to rethink your thesis,” he said.

As rising sea levels, flooding, erosion and more powerful storms take a toll on New England’s infrastructure and almost every region of the country facing extreme weather, Whitehouse called for the rest of Congress to wake up and take action. The local and state decision makers need better information to make more informed decisions about their infrastructure needs since a report for the Government Accountability Office revealed that historical climate patterns can no longer be used to make infrastructure plans.

“Risks that we ignore don’t go away just because we’re ignoring them,” he said.

Instead, Whitehouse revealed his three-part case on how to win the climate change war in Congress.

The first step is to make the polluters “stare down the barrel of the regulatory gun.” Whitehouse stressed the importance of a carbon fee to polluters and believes President Barack Obama’s plan of action for climate change is an important first step. Through the plan, the EPA will set carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants, and fuel economy standards for heavy-duty trucks, buses and vans.

“We’ve got to make the big carbon polluters pay a fee to the American people and cover the cost of dumping their waste into our atmosphere and oceans,” said Whitehouse.

He believes when faced with paying 100 percent of the compliance cost to meet new regulations or a carbon fee to spread across the economy and provide financial help during a transition, the polluters’ calculations will change.

“And to be blunt, when the polluters’ calculus changes, the Republican Party’s calculus will change along with them,” added Whitehouse.

His second step is to change the political climate in Congress by making the polluters’ “political allies fearful of a well-funded super pack dedicated to their demise.”

Finally, Whitehouse’s third step is the “gathering of the armies.”

“Remember that 82 percent of Americans that think we need to do something about this? Remember that most young Republican voters think climate deniers are ignorant, out of touch or crazy? There’s armies out there; we haven’t used them,” said Whitehouse, naming the green energy industry, young people, faith groups, celebrities, outdoor, hunting, fishing and conservation groups, and major American retailers as just some of the allies who could be brought together for this common goal.

“When you take that array of America’s economic and political and community actors, and put them together and actually have a plan, that’s a battle you win,” said Whitehouse. “And I think it’s a battle we can win soon.”

Whitehouse believes Congress is close to waking up when it comes to climate change, adding that there are a handful of young Republicans poised to become leaders in the party. He named Florida Senator Marco Rubio as likely to show bi-partisan support. He also said the fact that the majority of the public has the opinion to take action on climate change will speak volumes.

“Things change quickly when the public has moved,” said Whitehouse, seeing parallels with the success seen in the same-sex marriage movement.

Whitehouse ended his speech by vowing to help the leaders with their efforts regarding climate change, but he needs their help, too. He encouraged them to join and be active participants in the armies pushing for climate change and to be especially vocal, talking to friends, family, neighbors and, of course, their Congressional delegation.

“Tell them it’s time to wake up and we can get this done,” said Whitehouse.


Comments
8 comments on this item

The senators answer to perceived climate change is to tax tax tax. Meanwhile, the main polluters of the world are now India and China. They are not going to ruin their economies. The world has one atmosphere. This means Sheldon is the ignorant one.

Nope you're wrong. Not tax,tax,tax. It's about making changes. Changes such as solar power, wind energy, geothermal to name a few. Recycle, reduce, reuse. There is so much to be done that has nothing to do with taxing. Ever here the saying to wrongs don't make a right? So if China pollutes that means we should also? Very ignorant of you to say. Furthermore, China is rapidly changing its ways after suffocating smog and pollution is devestating that country.

Michael2012 if it is not tax, tax, tax who is going to pay for the infrastructure changes you suggest? Not that you are wrong but the very sad fact of life is other than Recycle, reduce; reuse which we have systems in place for now, the rest cost’s MONEY and where is that going to come from other then taxes.

Even if you suggest we start with private companies do you really think any of them would sign on to any program without at least very large tax breaks, or would they move to a state with less stringent rules taking jobs and tax payers with it.

And as for Sen. Whitehouse and the rest of congress maybe if you worked on the country’s economy and created more jobs would be a better use of all of our time and tax dollars…

Not everyone recycles which is lazy. It costs no money and actually adds money to cities and towns. People need to start doing their parts. Just look at all the litter everywhere in parking lots, sides of roads, at the beaches. A lot can be done and needs to be done. It's a mentality of thinking. There are all kinds of tax reliefs right now for businesses to invest in solar power and it should be widespread at this point. I can go on with examples but I think you get the idea. People are so quick to jump to being kind to the environment equals higher taxes. I don't understand that thinking, perhaps it is fear because heck we are taxed to death already.

First off the tax breaks do not amount to anything compared to the cost of startup. Secondly ecofriendly trend is towards wind now and not solar. Thirdly the infrastructure of this state/country is falling apart and in dire need to repair.

Now as for the “substantial tax breaks” you speak of this tells me some things at about your solar knowledge, that you know very little about cost of solar power (we heat out water with solar) or the fact that there is a onetime 30% tax break given on the set up cost which is quite pricey and the US Government is looking to reduce to 8%. You’re also missing the fact that billions of US tax dollars are spent in vain on solar power IE Solyndria investment that cost us a ½ of billion tax dollars alone.

So yes please go into examples because we as a family do a lot to help the environment and could do more but no I am not anywhere getting your point….

Forget climate change....Barack Hussein Whitehouse couldn't fix the volume on your TV set...and ODUMMAcare...He compared anyone who disagreed with ODUMMAcare a "nazi" right on the Senate floor...THis blue blood needs a new career, back on Daddy's horse farm in Virginia.

hahaha Solyndra is that the best argument you have. One bad company a few years ago. Not only do we heat with solar it is used for electricity if you didn't know. Example the Christmas tree farm in Scituate that has solar panels now due to the tax incentives which runs 75 % of his power needs. How about the gas mileage improving significantly under Pres. Obama. The technology is there. There are many choices to choose from when buying a car now that will get ya over 40 mpg and not cost ya a fortune to buy. Have you changed your light bulbs to led's yet? My house is full of them and my electric bill is down to $70 a month. I have currently a 50 watt solar panel charging my cell phones and lap top and all other small devices. I plant trees. I recycle a lot. I reuse stuff. I own a Prius. What we need the gov't to do is stop this fossil fuel madness and continue to push for alternative energy.

Oh and I heat my home with a wood pellet stove.

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