Here’s my op-ed published in the Portsmouth Herald after my DC trip last week:
I happened to be in Washington for meetings on the day of the Senate Democrats’ all-night climate caucus Tuesday, and sat in the gallery to attend the proceedings. My observation is that the men and women in the most exclusive club in the world are clearly comfortable with each other: Republican senators speaking with Democratic senators and visa versa; three senators were huddled around a newspaper, one holding it open for all three to read. Senators talking in small bipartisan huddles on the issues before them. Deliberate, good natured. From my perch, it was an honor to be there.
The 35th all-night debate in the history of the U.S. senate began Tuesday evening. History was being made by the greatest deliberative body in the world, and history was recounted by the greatest deliberative body.
Indeed, climate-related facts and examples and rhetoric brought to the Senate floor in speeches late into the night were identical to what’s been stated repetitively by scientists and proponents of action: There is an overwhelming consensus that the climate is changing because of man-made carbon pollution and other greenhouse gas emissions and that these changes are having a significant impact on our economy.
Twenty-eight senators from 20 states discussed effects and proposed solutions. Midwest senators acknowledged the threat of sea-level rise. East Coast senators mentioned devastating impacts of western fires and drought. Stories were told about the effects on agriculture, tourism, forests and national security. Energy solutions were proposed through technology, entrepreneurs, state and federal policy. Sea level is rising. The ocean is warming. Storms are more frequent. States have renewable portfolio standards. On and on and on.
New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen explained that tourism is New Hampshire’s second-largest industry, and climate change will put some of our best attractions in jeopardy. Sea-level rise, which is accelerating, imperils businesses and homes in communities such as Portsmouth and Hampton. Action on climate change, she emphasized, is essential in protecting our state and national economies.
Maine Sen. Angus King explained he was a climate skeptic until five years ago, when he ran across a chart that showed the abrupt rise of carbon dioxide in our lifetimes after being in a steady state over millions of years. He’s comfortable with a “no regrets” position. Homeowners pay $900 a year to ensure against a 1 in 10,000 risk of a house fire. Are we willing to take that risk? He hopes the 97 percent of scientists are wrong, but he does not want to be that person who ignores the risks. He asks, “Is something happening?” And answers, “Yes, the evidence is irrefutable. Are people the cause? Yes.”
So what? Climate presents economic, national security and ethical risks. King said, after hearing from the Maine Climate Change Institute, the potential for abrupt changes happening a lot sooner than 2100 “keeps me up at night.”
King recalled the Senate of the Edmund Muskie era, when the debate on the Clean Water Act was compressed into a slogan, “pickerel vs. payroll.” It took regulations to clean water.
King explained that he looked back at the Senate record when Muskie voted for clean water, and said he was stunned that the bill passed the senate unanimously. “Today, we couldn’t pass the time of day unanimously,” King said.
King asked Republicans to join the debate; free markets and coal, with a price on carbon, will be parts of the solution. A price on carbon, with revenues returned to the American people, was a common thread Tuesday night.
Conservative economists Art Laffer and Douglas Holts Eakin agree with the merits of a price on carbon, as do many others. Republicans are necessary if we are to address climate change in ways that reduce emissions and protect the American economy.
Earlier in the evening (before the climate debate) I was lucky enough to sit in the Senate gallery to witness all senators vote on SB 1917 (the Victims Protection Act of 2014). The bill, authored by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., includes reforms to prevent military sexual assault. SB 1917 passed, 97-0. Ayotte rose to acknowledge the importance of the bill, and expressed how special and exceptional a unanimous vote is in the Senate today.
Until Senate Republicans engage in a climate action vote that approaches the 97-0 vote I witnessed earlier in the evening, meaningful action on climate change will be unattainable.