Senator Schatz Calls for Bipartisan Solutions to America's Energy Security and Climate Change

Washington, D.C – Today, U.S. Senator Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) spoke on the Senate floor and called for cooperation in moving forward bipartisan energy policies that address climate change and advance American energy security.

“American energy policy is not defined by one project, or one piece of infrastructure, however contentious it may be,” said Senator Schatz. “There are a few areas where we are going to fight - there is no avoiding it, and that’s okay. But there is, for the first time since I arrived, a glimmer of hope that we may be able to find common ground on some of these issues and begin a serious discussion about tackling American energy policy and climate change.”

Full text of remarks follow:

The Keystone legislation is moving to the President’s desk, and he will veto it.  The votes are not there to override a veto, either in the Senate or the House. Legislation has a natural lifecycle, and this piece of legislation is reaching the end of its lifecycle. This debate is almost over.

So where are we when it comes to American energy policy?  The debate that occurred on Keystone was no doubt an important one, but it was exactly upside down.  Congress and the media treated the Keystone bill as if it would settle American energy policy once and for all, when in fact it was and is a tiny sliver of the debate.  American energy policy is not defined by one project, or one piece of infrastructure, however contentious it may be.

But in order to have a real energy conversation, we have to agree on the facts, and this body cannot be the only place where there is a lack of consensus on the basic facts.  That’s why Senator Whitehouse’s amendment, my amendment, Senator Hoeven’s amendment, and those of many others were so important.  Last month’s climate votes were illuminating and they were encouraging.

First, Senator Whitehouse’s language, which simply stated that climate change was not a hoax, received a nearly unanimous vote.  Believe it or not that was progress. 

But my amendment which stated that climate change was real, caused by humans, and has real and significant impacts, received a bare majority of the votes, with five Republicans supporting it.  Senator Hoeven’s amendment had similar language, as well as some pro-Keystone language, and attracted a dozen or so Republican votes.

So what is the significance of all of this? It’s very simple - without acknowledging the problem, we cannot even begin to work on it. The wall of denial has begun to crack. So now we have a majority, and depending on how it is phrased, even a potential supermajority in the Senate saying that climate change is real. Now, most every serious person in public life either admits the basic facts of climate change, or is on their way to getting there. 

So that’s a good thing - now the question is - what should we do, given our regional differences, our ideological differences, and the partisan divide?

What comes next?

Later this year or next, we will see efforts to repeal a number of important environmental rules, especially the Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which will regulate carbon pollution from existing and new power plants.  But, that too is highly unlikely to result in anything other than a presidential veto. 

So are there any areas for potential common ground? 

I think we have seen real glimmers of hope and possibility during the Keystone debate.

Several of my Republican colleagues made the argument during debate on Keystone that while climate change is a real problem, we must be aware of how energy costs influence economic activity.

I could not agree more.  You don’t hear this often from folks on my side of the debate, but price matters.  No climate policy is a real solution unless it strengthens both the national and global economies.  As we pursue clean energy we must understand its impacts on consumers, especially individuals and families in lower income communities, as well as businesses.  We miss an opportunity to find common ground if we move too quickly past the questions of cost and the social and economic context in which this transition is going to occur.

We can contend with these problems and challenges in Congress through a legislative solution. We can provide incentives, create market-based mechanisms, look at regional differences, fund R&D to help develop new and less expensive solutions.  EPA certainly has the authority and the obligation under the law to regulate carbon and other greenhouse gases.  And so I support the President’s Clean Power Plan - because carbon pollution is real, and it ought to be regulated under the Clean Air Act.

But if we want to be more comprehensive, if we want to be more nuanced, more flexible, more responsive to communities, we need a bill.  Structured properly, a bill has the advantage of creating economically efficient solutions that can reduce carbon pollution from a much wider range of sources.  

That’s why a well-designed fee on carbon is critical for our economy and our environment. 

But look, I understand that the politics are nearly impossible right now, but if you think about our ability as legislators to remunerate communities struggling during a transition, to ameliorate certain economic challenges, you may agree that legislating provides us the tools to achieve greater pollution reductions at a much lower social and economic cost.  And so once the Clean Power Plan is established, once it’s litigated, and once it’s full-on reality, I believe that there may be room for compromise.

One more thing on the question of price: I believe we ought to do our calculations on an all-in basis.  That includes tax expenditures, environmental damage, health impacts, and other so-called externalities.  There is plenty of good research that indicates that clean energy technology is competitive with fossil fuel technology when all costs are added in.  Additionally, the cost of solar energy, wind energy, and energy efficiency is dropping precipitously, and in many places, is competing successfully in the free market even before we consider the costs of pollution.

So we will have a couple of battles that are unavoidable - the Clean Power Plan, and likely another run at Keystone.

But there are a couple of areas that in my view don’t have to be a battle - energy efficiency and energy research:

We ought to start with the Shaheen-Portman energy efficiency legislation.  I have little doubt that Democrats would support this as a stand-alone bill.  Energy efficiency is just common sense, and the energy experts remind us of something that our mothers and fathers taught us growing up - waste not, want not.  In other words, the straightest line towards saving money for people, businesses, and institutions is to help them adopt the latest energy efficiency practices and technologies.

Now even this became a partisan issue in the last several Congresses, with people worried that light bulb efficiency standards were part of some Orwellian plot.  But that’s not what those Department of Energy standards do, and it’s not what Shaheen- Portman does.  At its core, energy efficiency is simply this: use less but get the same result. Using less means paying less.  Getting the same result means not having to sacrifice your way of life.  The idea is not to ask people to do without - the idea is to just get more for our money.  It’s an old school conservative idea. And of course, the Shaheen-Portman bill doesn’t cost the taxpayers a dime, and projections are that it will create nearly two hundred thousand jobs.

I also think there is a lot room for some good bipartisan work in advanced technology research in the energy space –

  • The kind that the Department of Energy did for Hawaii in developing a grid system that can accommodate unprecedented levels of intermittent renewable energy.

  • The kind that made major advances in hydraulic fracturing.

  • The kind that has helped the price of solar panels to drop 80 percent since 2008.
  • The kind that’ making breakthroughs in battery storage, which has fallen in price by 40 percent since 2010.

  • The kind that is working on carbon capture and sequestration.

America must lead on energy - and that requires that we do the kind of basic research that private companies can eventually use.  And a relatively small increase in research funding, both on the fossil and renewable side, has been shown to make an enormous impact on our economy.  Investments in renewable and fossil fuel electricity generation, distribution and transmissions systems, grid stability and security, and fuel systems will enable America to lead in energy for decades to come.

These are the kinds of investments that we would see in a comprehensive energy bill, and I was so encouraged last week that the Chairman of the Energy Committee, the Senator from Alaska, has indicated her desire to pursue comprehensive legislation this Congress. And she is a real killed bipartisan legislator -- real skilled bipartisan legislator and I'm looking forward to working with her on these issues.  I’m especially encouraged by her openness to climate provisions as a part of that bill, something she mentioned as recently as last week.  Just as she has listened to the concerns I and others raised about climate during the Keystone debate, so should we listen to her call for a reliable, affordable, clean, and diverse energy supplies.

Several energy proposals contained within the President’s budget could become a part of a bill, including ideas to more fully promote carbon capture and sequestration technologies and protect coal workers and their communities as we transition The concerns of communities that have coal-based economies are real and legitimate, and I believe any true climate solution must prioritize solutions for everyone.  The President recognizes that and proposed $55 million next year to help affected communities diversify their economies, offer job training, and ensure a just transition.

This will require compromise, and it will require those of us on the left to concede that fossil fuels will not disappear instantaneously, and it will require those on the right to recognize that investing in clean energy technologies doesn’t mean picking winners and losers.  We have wind energy in nearly all states - in fact, more in Republican than Democratic states - and we have Tea Party members everywhere who love the freedom and liberty that rooftop solar offers, and we have clean energy progressives, including me, who understand that we have to deal with the energy system we have, not the one we wish we had.

The areas I have mentioned are not the only opportunities for bipartisan compromise.  But we do need to start a dialogue, either on the floor, in committees, or in informal discussions, about what we can actually do. And as we consider a policy solution, let’s ask the following questions:

1.  Can it be enacted into law?

2.  Will it advance American energy security?

3.  Will it strengthen the economy and provide economic growth?

4.  Will it reduce carbon pollution?

There are a few areas where we are going to fight - there is no avoiding it, and that’s okay. But there is, for the first time since I arrived, a glimmer of hope that we may be able to find common ground on some of these issues and begin a serious discussion about tackling American energy policy and climate change.