Rep. Scott Peters Delivers Clean Energy Week Speech at National Press Club
It’s not hard to find warnings these days about climate change, and thankfully there are new activists and advocates every day. But I still feel that the most articulate and persuasive climate warrior may be one who’s been around for a while now, Vice President Al Gore. He wrote a piece that ran in Sunday’s New York Times entitled, “It’s Not Too Late. The Climate Crisis is the Battle of our Time, and We Can Win.”
He first describes the familiar, sobering and increasing effects of climate change: Category 5 hurricanes, monster fires, melting ice, tropical diseases, drinking water shortages, ocean acidification, reduced food supplies, mass migration of peoples, and extinction of species. He then encourages us that we already have many of the tools we need: cheap solar and wind energy, electric vehicle technology, energy conservation advances, sustainable agriculture, and even planting trees.
But finally, he warns that we cannot get to where we need to be without major policy change, and he says that “right now, we don’t have the right policies because the wrong policymakers are in charge.”
Now I didn’t let this hurt my feelings, and I get his point. Elections matter.
There was a guy who served with me on the Science Committee in my first term who lectured our witness, Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz, saying that because there was a storm in 1910 just as big as Superstorm Sandy, the atmosphere must be the same as 100 years ago. He was defeated in 2018, and that election result is good for climate policy. There’s another guy that said because there is a snowball, there is no climate change. He is still in the Senate, and that’s not good for climate policy.
And the planet desperately needs a new President of the United States, one that does not abandon international climate leadership. One who doesn’t appoint oil and gas industry advocates to environmental posts. One who won’t revoke rules limiting methane emissions, or the Clean Power Plan, or fuel economy standards. One who will not eliminate the term “climate change” from official government documents.
So, yes, by all means, let’s win elections.
But let’s also not pretend that we can wait for elections to begin to act.
The wait-for-the-next-elections approach is unfortunately what we see often from many who are treating the Green New Deal as a climate loyalty oath in our party.
I welcome the enthusiasm for climate action it’s generated. But let’s acknowledge what it really is – a one-party, nonbinding resolution that itself enacts not a single legislative change, not one. And it's already been voted down in the Senate.
While I agree with just about every policy in the Green New Deal that relates to climate change, it also calls for major, expensive, societal overhauls such as a federal jobs guarantee and free college for every American. We can debate those policies separately without burdening the already daunting task of climate action with these extra requirements.
Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist who captivated Capitol Hill this month, emphasized that we climate warriors need to keep our eyes on the ball. She said:
"Yes, of course a sustainable transformed world will include lots of new benefits. But you have to understand. This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth. This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced."
It’s not realistic or responsible to pretend that a big bang, utopian answer will appear as soon as the next election is over. There is a lot of work to do to figure what policies will have the most impact, and which will be most cost-effective. And Democrats may not win the presidency or the Senate and are unlikely to have the 60 votes significant action requires. And not all Democrats are the same.
Betting the planet on a future legislative climate utopia is risky and it’s lazy, but also ignores some wonderful openings before us today on climate in an evolving Congress. Notably, the assertion that all the Republicans are deniers is less accurate every day.
At the Energy and Commerce Committee this April, EPA Administrator Wheeler testified that climate change is real and that it is driven by human activity, including use of fossil fuels.
In our Committee debate over rejoining the Paris Climate agreement, Dave McKinley, a Republican from West Virginia, made the following argument:
Look, I agree that we must take a global approach in addressing climate change. But even if the United States is successful in totally decarbonizing, increased emissions from China and India alone will still cause environmental havoc: droughts, wildfires, severe weather, sea level rise, etc. Despite our best efforts, Miami will still flood.
That doesn’t sound like climate change denial.
Speaking of Miami, recently former Florida Republican Congressman Carlos Curbelo hosted a webinar called “Can Floridians Unite America to Lead on Climate?” Current Florida Republicans Francis Rooney, Brian Mast and Matt Gaetz are all cosponsors of legitimate climate legislation. Floridians have noticed the streets of Miami flooded on sunny days, and they know why that is.
Perhaps most noteworthy for bringing about a change of opinion toward climate among Republicans is the moral advocacy of religious leaders. Pope Francis issued an encyclical declaring climate change is “both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.”
The younger generation of evangelicals is increasingly rejecting today’s Republican party because its values don’t match theirs, on family separation at the border, police brutality, access to health care and addressing climate change, because they believe we are called upon to take care of God’s creation.
These trends present new opportunities to listen and to seek solutions on both sides of the aisle; those of us who care about the planet should not ignore it.
It’s a huge boost for climate action that Democrats now control what we can vote on in the House, but we in Congress didn’t discover the climate issue just last year. Personally, I’ve been working on climate in San Diego and in DC for my entire 20 years in public service, including my first three terms in Congress. I decided not to ignore what we’ve already done. We assembled a Climate Playbook, which lays out over 90 bills authored by Democrats and Republicans in recent years, most of which already have bipartisan support. Many have already passed through their committees of jurisdiction and some have passed the full House. It’s a resource we update as ideas are written into legislation, and as bills advance. It’s hosted on my web site and available to everyone.
The New Democrat Coalition, the largest ideological caucus in the House, formally endorsed 12 bills, seven already bipartisan. We declared that we “must attain net-zero emissions by 2050 at the latest, and we must address the threat of climate change with the rapid urgency this crisis demands.” To do that, we must “promote U.S. policies that are politically durable and long lasting.”
One of these bills is the (USE IT) Act, which I coauthored with Dave McKinley. It’s bipartisan and bicameral and supports the development and construction of vital carbon capture and removal technologies as called for by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. It also invests in technologies to transform captured carbon dioxide into commercial products.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz and I introduced the bipartisan Super Pollutants Act, which aims to regulate black carbon, hydrofluorocarbons, and methane–some of the most potent greenhouse gases – which are significantly more harmful than carbon dioxide. Among other things, the bill would codify the new source methane regulations the Trump Administration is trying to kill, and would incentivize, then mandate, control of methane from existing sources.
New York Republican Elise Stefanik and I introduced the Renewable Electricity Tax Credit Equalization Act, which extends tax credits for investments in qualified renewable biomass, geothermal, solid waste and hydropower, so that we can develop new renewable baseload power that could replace fossil fuels.
The DISASTER Act, which I introduced with Rep. Mark Meadows, mandates the OMB to give us an accurate picture of federal costs for disaster response, so we can understand the costs and we can emphasize the need to act on climate.
Related to our clean energy future, Rep. Elaine Luria has introduced the Nuclear Energy Leadership Act, which has the DOE demonstrate advanced nuclear plants, develop the fuel needed for this technology, and write a 10-year strategic plan for advanced nuclear reactor development. This is the type of energy innovation we need and it has eight Republican co-sponsors.
Finally, there are two bipartisan efforts to advance a carbon fee: the MARKET CHOICE Act and Energy Innovation and Carbon Dividend Act. We generally accept that a price on carbon is an indispensable component of an effective climate action plan, incentivizing every business, consumer and family to reduce their own carbon footprint.
People complain that to get Republican support, Democrats water down our proposals. Well of course we do. If Congress had a 2/3 majority like Sacramento, I’d pass a low carbon fuels standard, or mandate net carbon neutrality in electricity production by 2045. But this isn’t California. Progress here depends on bipartisanship.
I think it was Ted Kennedy who said I’ll take half a loaf today and come back tomorrow for the other half. We need to start working our legislative muscles again, not just our political ones.
So what’s the right policy approach? I’m for the ones that might actually become law.
We can’t continue to be satisfied by passing one-party messaging bills. Great challenges like sending a man to the moon, or winning a world war against tyranny, or fighting climate change to save the planet are not won by one political party. They are won with national unity and consensus. We need to work together if we want our children and our grandchildren to have a habitable planet.
That is the approach I’ve committed to. I hope you will all join me. We need to take, real, durable, binding action and we need to act now. There is no time to waste.