Liberal Dems Form Task Force to Address Unfolding Climate 'Catastrophe'

Susan Jones | January 15, 2014 | 7:56am EST
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Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) (AP Photo)

( - As Americans clamor for jobs, 18 Senate liberals have their eyes on the sky.

"Climate change is a dangerous threat to our nation, to our planet. It's a catastrophe that's unfolding before our eyes," Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) told a news conference on Tuesday, as she announced the formation of the Senate Climate Action Task Force.

"And we're very dedicated to the notion that when Congress wakes up to it, we'll be able to have an impact and reverse the trend, so that disaster isn't what's waiting for our grandchildren and our children."

Boxer noted that "18 percent of the Senate is part of this," and she named names, starting with her own: Boxer, Whitehouse, Cantwell, Menendez, Cardin, Sanders, Klobuchar, Udall, Shaheen, Merkley, Franken, Blumenthal, Schatz, Murphy, Heinrich, King, Markey and Booker.

"We're very realistic politicians. We understand that the makeup of Congress now is making it very difficult for us to pass climate change legislation now, but we will not sit back and give up, but we will raise the visibility of this issue, with the intent of changing minds around here."

Sen. Boxer promised that Americans will hear from the task force "very, very often."

"As far as action on renewable fuels, which we've discussed with you before, action on energy efficiency, in housing and other areas, fuel economy, of course we'll be dealing with those at this time." But she said "waking up Congress"  is the group's main focus right now. "We'll be doing it with speeches, press conferences like this, specific actions that will be very exciting..."

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who co-chairs the task force with Boxer, described climate change as a "contest that will affect the habitability of our planet for our children and our grandchildren."

He said climate change also goes to the heart of American democracy: "If we can't get this right, if we're blown off course by special interest money and propaganda on an issue like this, that sends a terrible message to the world and to the future."

Even "young Republicans" think climate change denial "is ignorant, out of touch, and crazy," he said.

Whitehouse said senators on the climate change task force will use all tools at their disposal to advance the cause, including amendments, floor time, calling groups together, working with corporations, with universities, and with the public generally.

More than a dozen senators appeared with Boxer and Whitehouse at Tuesday's news conference, and a sampling of their remarks -- some partisan -- follows:

-- Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) mentioned Republicans and "the electoral consequences of continuing to ignore this issue." "We have to tell Republicans that if they ultimately want to stop the hemorrhaging from young voters in this country, they need to start paying attention to this issue, because only 3 percent of voters 18 to 34 don't believe that climate change is really happening. Eighty percent of that same cohort of voters support President Obama's climate action plan and three-fourths of young voters would vote against a member of Congress who stands in the way of that plan."

-- Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) "The world is warming. Sea levels are rising. Storms like Sandy are more extreme. The oceans are more acidic. But the oil and the coal industries keep throwing up roadblocks to climate action. Their delay, their denial, their roadblocks are as bogus as a Fort Lee traffic study. There is no basis in fact for these roadblocks which they are creating to action here in Congress and across our country." Markey said the Republican Party "is in the grip of the oil and the coal industry. That is what is blocking real change, that is what is blocking action on science that will protect the public in the years ahead."

-- Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) said it doesn't matter if people believe in climate change -- "the data shows it is real." "And for those of us who are on the Intel (Intelligence) Committee, and on the Armed Services Committee, this is going to change the world. It is going to create conflicts in places and increase those conflicts in very real ways that are going to have direct costs to those Americans who serve in uniform and to the parts of the country that have to think about the security ramifications of this year in and year out."

-- Sen. Bernie Sander (I-Vt.): "When I go back to Vermont, people ask me what world the United States Congress is living in." Sanders said the new task force will "demand that the United States Congress listen to the scientific community, listen to the American people and start acting in a way that will tell our kids and our grandchildren that we are concerned about their future." He complained that the major television networks -- "on their important Sunday news shows" -- are not devoting enough time to climate change, according to a study by the far-left advocacy group, Media Matters.

-- Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) called carbon pollution "a direct assault on our natural resource industries." It's not a Democratic or a Republican issue, he said: "This carbon pollution is an attack on our natural resource industries of fishing, forestry and farming. We're all in this together and we need to take it on."

-- Sen. Angus King (I-Maine): "Everything you need to know about this issue can be embodied in the Maine Rototiller Rule. The Maine Rototiller Rule is, if you borrow your neighbor's Rototiller, you always give it back to him or her in as good a shape as you got it and with a full tank of gas. We have the planet on loan. We don't own it. We have it on loan from future generations."

-- Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said climate change, accelerated by human activity, is happening. "Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree with that statement." He pointed to rising water levels and more wildfires, droughts, floods, extreme weather conditions: "There are workable solutions to reduce greenhouse gases. We can change this," he said. He mentioned "cleaner energy sources, more conservation, and greater vehicle fuel efficiency.
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