Robert Menendez

US Senator for New Jersey
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During Debate of Climate Change Bill, Sen. Menendez Expresses Disappointment with Republican Obstruction, Hopes for a Stronger Bill

Menendez was prepared to offer several amendments, Republican tactics prevented any from being considered

June 5, 2008

Washington - As the U.S. Senate debates legislation to address the climate change crisis, Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) took to the Senate floor today to signal his strong support for immediate action to address climate change and to express his deep disappointment with Republican tactics that delayed consideration of the bill and obstructed amendments. While supportive of the bill, Senator Menendez also expressed his hopes that the bill would be made stronger.

Senator Menendez on the need for a climate change bill:

"It's not enough to sit back and watch as tragic stories unfold, as heat waves and wildfires strike, as we see floods and droughts, more severe hurricanes, species disappearing, ice caps melting, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. It's not enough to sit back and watch, because we have a human, moral imperative to take action. And it's not enough because someday, the door that tragedy knocks on could be our own.

"Great change always has its opponents. Instead of arguing that we should be innovative, they'll argue that we should be afraid—that we should do all we can to hold on to the ways of the past instead of having the courage to prepare for the future."

Senator Menendez on Republican obstruction and delay of the bill:

"Many of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle are rejecting any efforts we might propose, out of hand. They argue that almost anything would cost too much; they suggest that any effort to go green on the scale necessary would be too expensive.

"Saying we can't invest in renewable energy because there's a dollar-figure attached sounds like telling someone with a fatal disease that the cure is too costly or saying to a crime victim that we can't afford to put police on the streets because of budget constraints."

Senator on the need to invest in renewable energy and new technologies:

"The question isn't whether an investment needs to be made. The question is, whether we want to make that investment now, while we can do it safely, gradually, and inexpensively, or later, when we have to make wholesale changes to our economy in a matter of years rather than decades.

"In other words, what we're deciding is not whether to put a cap on carbon emissions. The question is whether we do it now, or whether we wait.

"Do we do it now, when it's cheaper to do it, when we can set ourselves up to compete with Europe and Japan in creating new technologies, when we can create jobs in the midst of an economic downturn?"

Amendments Senator Menendez was prepared to offer:

• Amendment with Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) to divert allowances under the cap and trade system from petroleum refiners to states with the requirement that a portion is used for renewable energy development.

• Amendment to move allowances funds from oil companies to renewable energy.

• Amendment with Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) to divert allowances under the cap and trade system from oil companies in order to fund "adaptation" - efforts to help developing nations adapt to climate change.

• Amendment with Senator John Kerry (D-MA) calling on federal government to conduct a comprehensive scientific review of the domestic costs of rising sea levels, decreased agricultural productivity, drought, increased numbers of violent storms and any other costs of unmitigated climate change.

• Amendment with Senator Kerry to divert allowances funds from fossil fuel electricity to significantly increase the amount of funding available to protect global forest resources.

• Named sponsor of Biden-Lugar amendment establishing the sense of the Senate that the United States should be a leader on climate change and actively seek to become part of an international treaty on climate change.

Full text of Senator Menendez's remarks, as prepared for delivery:

M. President, I thought this debate would be a watershed moment - a moment when we finally moved beyond Republican attempts to deny that global warming exists. But as this debate has evolved we see that we have not gotten very far. Instead of deny, deny, deny - the Republican playbook has shifted to delay, delay, delay.

M. President, the time to act is now. We're not going to be able to transition from a fossil fuel based economy to a green, renewable energy-based economy overnight, and therefore it is critical that we act as soon as possible to begin this transition.

I'd like to thank my colleagues who have worked so hard to get this legislation to the floor. The mere fact we are having this debate gets us closer to actually enacting a policy to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

But I do hope that in time we can support much stronger legislation. I have concerns about whether this bill speeds our transition to a carbon free economy quickly enough. Because of the cost containment mechanism and the large number of offsets in the bill I'm worried that some companies might be able to delay cutting back their emissions for over a decade. I also believe we can go even farther in supporting renewable sources and energy efficiency.

I was hoping that I would have the opportunity to offer a few amendments to try to improve the legislation. The first amendment I hoped to offer, along with Senators Lautenberg and Sanders, would have shifted transition assistance funding from Big Oil to renewable energy generators. At a time of record oil company profits, I do not think we really need to allow oil companies to continue to pollute for free, especially when that money could be used to help jump start the development of clean, renewable, affordable, American energy.

The second amendment I authored along with Senator Snowe would have boosted funding to help developing nations adapt to changes in the climate they had little to no part in creating. Making investments to help vulnerable nations isn't just a necessary step to secure an effective international climate treaty, or just a way to advance U.S. national security interests -- it's a moral imperative.

The third amendment I filed with Senator Kerry would help nations with tropical forests lower their rates of deforestation, a cost-effective way of keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere. Approximately 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions come from deforestation and if we hope to secure an effective climate treaty, we must be willing to help forested nations create the tools they need to effectively address the problem.

Finally, the fourth amendment I authored also with Senator Kerry would have required the government to calculate the cost of inaction on global warming, from the costs of drought to flooding to storm damage. Many of my friends on the other side of the aisle have spent a lot of time this week bemoaning the alleged costs of solving global warming, but they have completely ignored the horrendous costs of ignoring global warming. We need this study so we are not always looking at half the balance sheet on this issue.

Many of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle are rejecting any efforts we might propose, out of hand. They argue that almost anything would cost too much; they suggest that any effort to go green on the scale necessary would be too expensive.

Saying we can't invest in renewable energy because there's a dollar-figure attached sounds like telling someone with a fatal disease that the cure is too costly or saying to a crime victim that we can't afford to put police on the streets because of budget constraints.

There were some who argued that it would be too expensive to reinforce the levees in New Orleans, and when Hurricane Katrina hit, we found out what the true costs of that decision were. We can't fail again to listen to John F. Kennedy when he warned us, "the time to repair the roof is when the sun is shining."

The question isn't whether an investment needs to be made. The question is, whether we want to make that investment now, while we can do it safely, gradually, and inexpensively, or later, when we have to make wholesale changes to our economy in a matter of years rather than decades.

In other words, what we're deciding is not whether to put a cap on carbon emissions. The question is whether we do it now, or whether we wait.

Do we do it now, when it's cheaper to do it, when we can set ourselves up to compete with Europe and Japan in creating new technologies, when we can create jobs in the midst of an economic downturn?

Or do we do it when our hand is forced, when Americans have already felt the catastrophic effects of climate change, when our coasts are flooded, when storm surges damage our houses and droughts threaten our harvests, when the costs become enormous because we have to change so quickly?

It's going to be far harder and far more expensive to have to stop carbon emissions overnight than to do it now. If we want to slash our carbon emissions 80% by 2050, we simply cannot wait till 2030 to get started, unless we want to risk the economic and environmental future of this country.

Today, in the rising price of gas we have to pay at the pump, we're seeing the result of waiting till disaster strikes to act.

In the 1970s because of the Arab Oil embargo we drastically improved the fuel efficiency of our passenger vehicles. In 1976, our cars and trucks got 13 miles per gallon, but by 1981 our fleet had improved to 21 miles per gallon. But from 1981 to 2006, the average fuel economy of our passenger vehicle fleet actually declined, to 20 miles per gallon.

If we had been gradually improving efficiency standards instead of waiting for high gas prices to force our hand, we would all be better off today. If we had increased fuel economy a modest 2% per year, our new fleet of vehicles would now average 34 miles per gallon.

Astonishingly, if we had followed this course, our current demand for oil would be over one-third less than it is today, down over 2 billion barrels of oil per year. Cumulatively, we would have saved over 30 billion barrels of oil. 30 billion barrels of oil is more oil than the entire proven oil reserves remaining in the United States.

With such a reduced demand for oil imagine how much less we'd be paying for gas today.

Some of my colleagues on the Republican side of the aisle are suggesting that capping carbon emissions would cause energy and gas prices to go up.

Well, the reality is, anyone can tell you, prices are going up, and prices will keep going up, unless we end our dependence on oil. And that means transitioning to free, renewable fuels, like wind and solar. We don't have to pay Saudi Arabia for the rights to use the sun to generate power; we don't have to send money to Nigeria for the right to harness the power of the wind.

The more we improve the technology that can run on renewable fuels, the cheaper every kind of fuel will be.

But solving global warming is not just about protecting us from catastrophic weather and hostile foreign regimes, this is also about jobs. Renewable energy industries are perhaps the single greatest opportunity to create new, good-paying jobs this country has seen in a generation. If we want to put up millions of solar panels, it's going to take hundreds of thousands of workers to install them.

And those are jobs created here at home, unlike what happens when we continue to rely on oil, which is that we create jobs in the Middle East, Nigeria and Venezuela.

I'm proud that my home state of New Jersey is #2 in the nation in terms of solar capacity, behind only California. And we've seen new jobs created because of it.

M. President, global warming is a challenge that faces us all, and a challenge we all must face together.

It's not enough to sit back and watch as tragic stories unfold, as heat waves and wildfires strike, as we see floods and droughts, more severe hurricanes, species disappearing, ice caps melting, glaciers melting, sea levels rising. It's not enough to sit back and watch, because we have a human, moral imperative to take action. And it's not enough because someday, the door that tragedy knocks on could be our own.

Great change always has its opponents. Instead of arguing that we should be innovative, they'll argue that we should be afraid—that we should do all we can to hold on to the ways of the past instead of having the courage to prepare for the future.

The American people are tired of being told what they can't achieve. And they're tired of being told they should be satisfied with the status quo.

It's time to put aside our fears, unleash our powers of innovation, and rise to meet one of the defining challenges of our time.

Thank you, M. President, I yield the floor.

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