Recent Speeches

MRS. FEINSTEIN: Mr. President, I rise today to speak in favor of the climate change legislation sponsored by Senators Joe Lieberman and John Warner, and the manager’s substitute amendment offered by my friend and colleague, Senator Barbara Boxer.

I really want to congratulate all three of them -- this is not an easy road.

I want to particularly thank the Chairman of the Committee for her work on this.  She has been open. She has been consultative. She has asked to meet with members, and she has asked for members’ participation in the work. She has been both strong and solid in her leadership.

Mr. President, after years of debating about the science underlying our warming planet, today really marks a momentous step.     For the first time, we are considering legislation to address global warming in a comprehensive manner.

I believe the time has come for the Senate to pass legislation to tackle this problem.

This bill represents the most comprehensive opportunity we have in this Congress to help curb our carbon footprint and take meaningful action to prevent catastrophic climate change. And no one should disbelieve that that is not coming.

The fact is this: global warming is happening -- and it’s already begun to inflict changes on the world as we know it.

If you read the newspapers, if you watch television, or if you simply take a look around – it’s undeniable:

  • We’re seeing intense weather patterns. More destructive and deadly storms like the cyclone that hit Burma and the tornadoes that have devastated parts of the Midwest.
  • Species are beginning to disappear. The Fish and Wildlife Service just announced that the polar bear has been placed on the Endangered Species List because of global warming. Its habitat is literally melting away.
  • The polar ice caps are melting. The Northwest Passage was navigable for the first time last summer -- the Arctic Circle could be ice free by 2030.
  • The west is running out of water.  Scientists at UC San Diego believe there is a 50-50 chance that Lake Mead, a key source of water for 8 million people in the southwestern United States, will be dry by 2021 if climate changes as expected and its use is not curtailed.
  • Projections suggest that both Antarctica and Greenland could melt at the same time. If that were to happen, sea levels would rise by 20 feet.
  • We’re feeling the affects of warmer weather – five out of the past five years, and 19 out of the last 20, have been the warmest years on record.
And the western United States is receiving the brunt of warming.  Now this is because the west’s average temperature is 70 percent greater than the planet as a whole.  

So the earth’s temperature has warmed 1 degree over the past century.  But it’s warmed 1.7 degrees in the 11-state western region -- and it’s only getting warmer.  Just take a look at the math.

Now, here’s why: carbon dioxide doesn’t dissipate in the atmosphere. It remains for 30, 40, 50, 100 years.  

The atmosphere is a shell around the earth, and carbon dioxide emissions have been growing since the Industrial Revolution in this atmosphere.

So, the question becomes how much will the Earth warm?

This very question is at the heart of why we need climate change legislation – because scientists tell us that we can make a difference to impact how much the earth will warm.

We can’t stop warming, but we can slow it down.

But if we are going to keep doing the math, we must act soon and we must act decisively.  I truly don’t believe that there’s a minute to waste.

To stabilize the climate and to prevent catastrophic warming, scientists say we need to begin by reducing emissions by 65 to 80 percent below 1990 levels – that’s 65 to 80 percent below what we put into the atmosphere in 1990 – and do all of this by the middle of the century.

That translates to a goal of 450 parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Vice President Al Gore told me recently – and there’s new science out – that we may actually need to limit carbon emissions to 350 parts per million, which is even stronger.

There’s new science out that shows that the earth is warming even faster than was originally predicted. So, we need to contain the warming to 1 to 2 degrees. We’ll still experience significant, but manageable changes.

But if we fail to act, the earth’s temperature could rise 5 to 9 degrees – or more. Those results would be catastrophic and irreversible.

When I speak at Constituent Breakfasts about global warming – most people believe the earth can’t change.  But in fact, planets do change.  Look at Mars.  Look at the earth 250 million years ago when there was only one land mass on earth.  So, the earth is subject to change.  And that change can be dramatic.  And warming affects that change.  I think this is a gamble we cannot afford to take.

The truth is though, that there is no silver bullet. There is no one thing that will turn the tide.

We need to go clean and green – in driving, in heating, in cooling, in building and in fueling. And we need to move away from fossil fuels.

And that’s why we need the Lieberman-Warner legislation.

By 2050, this bill would reduce emissions by 63 percent below 2005 levels, or 57 percent below 1990 levels.

So the legislation sets us on the path towards meaningful greenhouse gas reductions.

It does so in a way that encourages innovation, and makes the investments in cleaner energy and green practices across the entire economy. Importantly, it also includes important provisions to keep our economy strong.

Bottom line: this legislation is a major step in the right direction – it’s the most significant thing we can do right now to help prevent catastrophic climate change.

Let me take a few moments to talk about what the bill does.

There are two ways to deal with this – one, is a carbon tax.  Some scientists want the carbon tax.  But most people believe a new tax is not going to happen.  

The other alternative is a cap-and-trade system, much like what Europe has done, and like what the Northeastern states have been doing to deal with acid rain.  They have reversed acid rain by 45 percent through their cap-and-trade system.  

So, this legislation establishes a cap-and-trade system for roughly 86 percent of the economy – it includes the electricity sector, manufacturing, transportation, and natural gas.

It would be the world’s most comprehensive effort to address global warming to date.

It controls emissions in more sectors of our economy than Europe’s carbon control program – and it would restore American leadership in the fight to protect our planet.

Here’s how it works:

  • In 2012, emissions are capped at 2005 levels and they begin to ratchet down approximately two percent per year.  This provides time – it’s 2008, it begins in 2012.
  • By 2020, emissions would be 19 percent below current levels.
  • By 2050, emissions would be cut to approximately 63 percent below 2005 levels, or 57 percent below 1990 levels.
That’s the cap part.

The trade part of the bill allows for the trading of “allowances,” which are permits to release one metric ton of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.  It is a proven system.  It’s working well right now in the United States, as I have said, to control acid rain and smog pollution.  It has given companies flexibility to innovate and embrace new technologies.

Under this bill, the pollution permits are allocated in a way that transitions our economy towards a low carbon future.

In the early years, one third of the “allowances” will be allocated to polluting industries covered by the bill to assist with their transition to less carbon intensive technologies. So one-third goes to those who pollute the earth.

And revenue produced by selling allowances at auction will be used to invest in low carbon technology development and deployment.  

The bill funds Carbon Capture and Sequestration, renewable energy and other low carbon technologies for producing electricity – that’s a good thing.

It funds efforts to retool car factories to produce more efficient vehicles and ventures to develop cellulosic biofuels – two steps essential to reducing vehicle emissions.

It funds efforts to increase the efficiency of buildings, homes, and appliances.  

And it rewards states that produce significant emissions reductions.

In later years, this bill refocuses its assistance towards worker training and financial relief for consumers – it’s a good bill.

And it assists those in coastal and arid states who will have to adapt to sea level rise and rain fall loss.

So, it makes our world better off, but it also helps those who may have to shoulder an undue burden.  

Bottom line: This cap-and-trade bill significantly reduces emissions, funds new technologies, deploys existing low cost options, contains costs, and mitigates negative impacts.  

It effectively combats climate change while protecting our quality of life.

I’d like to take a few moments to talk in detail about some of the key provisions in the bill that I think are of particular note.

First, the legislation includes language to establish federal oversight for the new carbon markets.

This is something that I’ve learned as a Californian, in the Western Energy Crisis, that we need to do.

A $100 billion-dollar market for the trading of carbon emissions is going to spring up as this cap-and-trade system is established – and we need to be prepared.  

There are those who manipulate the price of oil and the price of gas -- and we in California found that out to the tune of $40 billion.  So, this new market could attract Enron-like manipulation, fraud or excessive speculation – unless we take preventive action.

Last month, Congress finally passed legislation in the Farm Bill to close the ‘Enron Loophole’ to protect electronic energy markets.

But it took more than six years after the Western Energy Crisis to achieve that.

It’s time to learn from our mistakes.

So, we need to take steps now to ensure that this market functions with transparency, as well as anti-fraud and anti-manipulation provisions from the get-go.

Specifically, this legislation will require the President to establish an interagency working group – the Carbon Market Working Group – made up of the heads of the following agencies:

  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),
  • Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC),
  • Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC),
  • Securities Exchange Commission (SEC), and
  • Treasury Department.

Within 270 days of enactment of the bill, the Working Group would establish the regulatory framework for the market and recommend necessary regulations that assure enforcement of core market oversight principles.

These principles would include:  

  • Ensuring market transparency: in price, volume, and other trading data – all would be made available to the public;
  • Requirements for recordkeeping and an audit trail, which up to this point, doesn’t exist in the electronic marketplace, but thanks to the “Enron Loophole Closer” Bill, it will exist; and finally
  • Preventing fraud, manipulation and excessive speculation.

I was very pleased to hear that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission is now taking a look at excessive speculation in the oil market as a reason for the drive up in prices for the price of gasoline.  And I will bet anything, that there is excessive speculation in that market today.

These regulations would be fully enforceable by existing market oversight agencies and violators would be subject to significant penalties.  

It’s critical that we protect these markets from the outset. We cannot afford to delay.

Second, the bill promotes green practices for farmers and foresters.  

This is something that I am very interested in.  California is the largest agricultural state.  The legislation includes language that I authored to fund research on innovative and cost-effective methods for farmers and foresters to store carbon in the soil.

It is believed that farming and forestry practices to sequester carbon in the soil hold great potential to reduce our carbon footprint – and this is particularly true in my state.

But the fact is that we don’t yet know enough about the best ways to carry out carbon sequestration in California.  

So, this legislation would help shed light on a number of practices farmers and foresters can take to sequester carbon.

The research would be funded through allowances for agriculture in the cap-and-trade system established by this Lieberman-Warner legislation.

Some of these practices could include several methods popular in my state, including:  

  • Row crop practices such as conservation tillage;
  • Permanent crop practices including planting cover crops during the winter season, and using prunings for bioenergy production, rather than chipping, mulching or burning the material; and
  • Practices to reduce the digestion-related emissions of methane gas from cattle and livestock.
Once we understand which of these innovative methods is the most cost-effective, farmer could then sell low-cost offset credits to companies that need to reduce their emissions. So, this a win-win.

Third, this bill promotes low carbon fuels through a “Low Carbon Fuels Standard.”

Similar to the Clean Fuels and Vehicles Act which Senator Snowe and I introduced last year, this would require each major oil company selling gasoline in the United States to reduce the average lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions per unit of energy in their gasoline.  

The provision ensures that that car and truck emissions go down as we increase the use of low carbon renewable fuel, such as cellulosic ethanol.  

By improving the Renewable Fuels Standard, which requires the use of 36 billion gallons of renewable fuel by 2022, it assures that the climate benefits of this provision are realized.  

My conclusion and bottom line:  confronting global warming will require action on a broad scale.

To those in this Body who are dissenters, I can say this – if we don’t do it, when the science has coalesced, when the science tells us that the time is limited, when the science tells us we cannot stop it, because carbon dioxide doesn’t dissipate – there is no other option.

We must move away from carbon and we must move to other kinds of fuels, and do so quickly. And we must take these steps to aid the conversion of an American industry.

Also, most important, this bill will signal that the United States, after a long period of doing nothing, is prepared to stand up tall and to lead.

I want to thank Senator Warner and Senator Lieberman for this legislation.  

I know that the Senior Senator from Virginia is here on the floor, and I know that he is going to retire at the end of the year.  I just wanted him to know, very personally for me, how much I respect him.  I respect your leadership on this issue, Senator Warner, I think it leaves you a great legacy, and I only hope that we will do justice to you by passing this legislation here today.  So thank you so much for your leadership.