WASHINGTON -– Senators planning to stay up all night Monday talking about climate change say the marathon session is the "opening salvo" in a renewed effort to pass legislation curbing greenhouse gas emissions.
"We have a simple message for all Americans: We're not going to rest until Congress acts on the most pressing issue of our time," said Sen. Brian Schatz, a freshman Democrat from Hawaii, who organized the all-nighter on the Senate floor.
The overnight session is meant to "make sure everybody across the nation knows we're taking this seriously, and that there is a stirring in the Senate on this issue," said Schatz. Participants said they will make the point that climate change is "real, caused by humans, happening now, and it is solvable," he said. "We are the cause, but we are also the solution."
Thirty senators have signed up to participate in the event, including Sens. Jack Reed (D-R.I.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.), who joined the lineup since it was announced on Friday.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that while the senators don't plan to introduce legislation during the session, they hope the event will show strong support for action among Senate Democrats. "Tonight's event is a signal of a much larger confidence we have about our ability to get a significant climate bill passed in Congress," said Whitehouse. "We have a very strong chance to win, but we have to fight."
The push is notable. It was the Democratic-led Senate that killed climate legislation in 2010, after the House had passed a major cap-and-trade bill the previous year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said at the time that the measure didn't have enough votes to move forward. Reid has been taking a more aggressive stance on climate recently, telling reporters last week that climate change "is the worst problem facing the world today."
More than half of the Senate Democratic caucus is participating in the overnight session. On a call with reporters Monday afternoon, Whitehouse was asked about the 25 Democrats who aren't -- including a number of from fossil-fuel producing states and those facing tough reelection bids in 2014. "There are no climate deniers in the Senate Democratic caucus. There may be a divergence of views on what the appropriate solutions are, but no one is out there pretending this isn't real or it's a hoax," said Whitehouse. "This is just an opening salvo, and as we bring more and more voices into this, we'll be in a better position to not only have a unanimous caucus on this problem, but have a unanimous caucus on the solution."
While no Republicans are participating, a number have signaled support for addressing climate change, Whitehouse said. He named no names, but alluded to past cap-and-trade measures from Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), a cap-and-dividend bill that Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) coauthored in 2010, and support for a carbon tax that Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) has previously shown.
"Actually, there's a pretty good group to work with," said Whitehouse. He said an influx of corporate money into electoral campaigns following the Supreme Court's 2010 Citizens United decision has driven Republicans "back to their holes" on climate change. He said he hopes the all-night session will help "spotlight" the issue "so they're obliged to work with us."
"We hope by staying up all night to discuss climate change, tomorrow will signal a new dawn for climate action in Congress," said Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
Follow the event tonight at our liveblog or via Twitter at #Up4Climate.
Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) gave the morning's final speech, wrapping up shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday.
"We are in severe jeopardy," said Nelson, whose state faces arguably the greatest risks from sea level rise and storm surge. "It is time for us to get out of our lethargy and recognize the problem that is happening in front of our very eyes."
He was the last of the speakers at the all-night session, which started almost 15 hours earlier.
Washington State Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell took to the floor just after 8 a.m. Tuesday morning to talk about the need to address another climate impact: ocean acidification.
Ocean acidification happens when the seas absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, causing a chemical reaction that makes the water become more acidic. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that can "affect the ability of some organisms to produce and maintain their shells."
Cantwell cited research finding that the oceans could be 150 percent more acidic by the end of century due to rising emissions.
The commercial fishing industry in Washington, said Cantwell, relies on keeping the oceans habitable for Alaskan crabs, scallops, and oysters. Commercial fishing provides 42,000 jobs in the state and .7 billion in economic activity. Ocean acidification is causing the shells of a tiny organism know as the pteropod, which young Pacific salmon rely on as source of calcium, to deteriorate.
"Ocean acidification is an economic issue," said Cantwell. "Ocean acidification kills jobs."
Several Democrats have mentioned their desire to engage more Republicans on climate change.
"Right now what we need is a Republican dance partner," said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), the organizer of the climate overnight.
"Responsible people who support the Republican party need to bring their party back from the brink," said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.).
Whitehouse noted earlier on Monday that a number of Republican senators have, at some point, endorsed some kind of policy to address emissions--Republicans like John McCain (R-Ariz.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.).
But as Energy & Environment reporter Nick Juliano tweeted on Monday evening, at least one of those potentially sympathetic Republicans said she didn't get an invite to tonight's climate party:
.@SenatorCollins, who introduced a climate-y bill this afternoon, says she wasn't asked to participate in 'partisan exercise' talkathon— nickjuliano (@nickjuliano) 5 years ago
Collins' bill would cut carbon dioxide emissions and air pollution around the world by spurring the adoption of clean cookstoves. Collins also co-sponsored a cap-and-dividend bill with Democrat Maria Cantwell of Washington in 2010.
If the Senate did try to pass a climate bill anytime soon, Democrats would need the votes of Collins and other Republicans with climate-action inclinations.
In his speech on the Senate floor in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker spent a lot of time talking about Hurricane Sandy, which ravaged his state in 2012.
"The stories that came from Hurricane Sandy rip your gut out," said Booker. He read from a story about a Toms River, N.J., resident who lost his home and nearly his life in the storm.
While it "would be irresponsible" to say that any individual extreme weather event happened because of climate change, Booker said, "we know for a fact that, should more hurricanes hit, with rising sea levels, they're going to do more and more damage."
"When confronted with a problem, deal with it," said Booker, who has a storied record of intervening in crises. "Devise a workable solution and get it done."
"We have an obligation to act," he said. "That's who we are as Americans."
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) carries several large signs as she heads to the Senate floor on Monday night. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
Sen. Chris Coons (D-Del.) walks with a staff member Monday night. Twenty-eight Democrats and two Independents are planning to talk about climate change on the Senate floor until early on March 11. (Photo by T.J. Kirkpatrick/Getty Images)
According to Senate records, tonight's talkathon is the 36th all-nighter in Senate history.
The Senate considers it an all-night session if it continues past 4 a.m.
A Congressional Research Service report from last year notes that "all-night sessions are very unusual."
However, the Senate has pulled all-nighters more often than usual in the last year. There were three all-night sessions in 2013: A debate over a budget resolution last March, Ted Cruz's symbolic filibuster last September and a post-cloture debate on executive and judicial nominations last December.
The longest overnight session was a debate on civil rights amendments in 1960 that lasted 125 hours -- from 12 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 29 to 5:31 p.m. on Saturday, March 5.
Louisville, Ky.'s NPR affiliate, WFPL, asked Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes what she thinks about tonight's climate talkathon. Does she support it, and would she participate if she were in the Senate?
The response they got from spokeswoman Charly Norton didn't exactly answer the question.
Alison understands the reality of climate change. But what she doesn't support is unnecessary regulation that hurts Kentuckians. She will push for a broader approach that invests federal money in clean coal technology and in helping the industry become more competitive in a changing marketplace. While it is important to protect the environment, it is just as important to make sure the men and women of Kentucky are able to provide for their families. As Senator, Alison will work to protect the jobs of hardworking Kentuckians in any solution to the changing climate.
So …. no real answer as to whether Grimes would join her 30 fellow Democrats in taking part tonight. WFPL reporter Phillip M. Bailey notes that this is exactly the same response--word for word--that the station got last September when they asked the Grimes campaign about her position on climate change and fossil fuels.
Grimes is looking to unseat Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who wants to block the Obama administration's new rules limiting emissions from coal-fired power plants. He blasted the senators taking part in tonight's event as "anti-coal liberals."
But Grimes, too, has distanced herself from the Obama administration on environmental issues, stating that "Coal keeps the lights on here in Kentucky … I disagree with the president and his philosophies in terms of coal."
As The Guardian points out, Tim Kaine (D-Va.) was the first senator to bring up the proposed Keystone XL pipeline—a major climate-related issue that the Obama administration is expected to make a decision on in the coming months.
"It would be very good thing if the president right now rejected the use of tar sands oil in the Keystone pipeline," Kaine said. "Why would we embrace tar sands oil and backslide to a dirtier tomorrow?"
Environmental advocates have been urging the administration to reject the 1,660-mile pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada's tar sands to refineries in Texas, on the basis that it would increase the country's contribution to climate change. Oil from the tar sands produces more emissions over its lifecycle than conventional oil.
In his big climate speech last summer, President Obama said that the pipeline should be approved only if it "does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution." The State Department's final environmental impact analysis did not find that the pipeline would, but another study recently questioned that analysis.
"I don’t want to bury my head in the tar sands," said Kaine.
Taking a page from the book of Ted Cruz, Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) read a passage from Dr. Seuss on the Senate floor Monday night.
Markey's Seuss text of choice was The Lorax, the 1971 environmental fable on the hazards of letting corporations run amok. "Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot," read Markey, "nothing is going to get better. It's not."
Cruz's choice for his Senate filibuster over Obamacare last September was another Seuss favorite, Green Eggs And Ham.
Markey himself was in a rhyming mode Monday night as he spoke about global emissions. "So much of that CO2 is red, white and blue," said the senator who coauthored the climate bill that passed the House in 2009.
Markey joined the Senate last July, after winning the bid to fill John Kerry's seat when he became Secretary of State. He said that he believes climate will be an important political issue in the coming year. "We're going to have a big fight about this in 2014," said Markey. "People are going to know that we stood up and had a debate about this most important issue."
CSPAN has the video of Markey reading The Lorax.
Roll Call's Meredith Shiner reports on the vulnerable Democrats—most of them from fossil-fuel producing states—who are missing from tonight's climate confab.
According to a list of participating senators provided by Democrats, the most politically vulnerable among them will not speak: Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Mary L. Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas and John Walsh of Montana. Interviews with several moderate Democrats on Monday suggested they were not invited to contribute to the event, while GOP campaigns hit Senate Democrats generally for staging such a stand on the floor.
“I will not be [speaking],” Landrieu, chairwoman of the Senate Energy Committee, said before votes Monday. “I will not be, but I think what they’re doing is helpful.”
Other coal-friendly Democrats, including West Virginia's Joe Manchin, are also not participating. Manchin's campaign for Senate in 2010 featured an advertisement where he shot a copy of the proposed climate legislation. He indicated to Roll Call that he was not invited to participate tonight, but “would be happy to participate if they would want me to."
Freshman Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine--one of the only Democrats from a coal state participating in the all-night climate event--took to the floor Monday night to talk about the need to innovate for cleaner energy.
"When we frame the debate as a conflict between the economy and the environment, we just talk past one another," said Kaine. "We've got to reduce pollution. We need to create jobs. Instead of arguing about which is more important, let's use American innovation to do both."
He noted that "even in coal-producing Virginia," the majority of voters say they want the government to act to reduce planet-warming emissions.
Kaine also challenged what he called "leadership denial" among those who argue that the United State should not take action on emissions unless countries like China and India do, too. "That is just not the American way, folks, for us not to lead on something important like that," said Kaine. "It is true that we need every country to act, but that's not an argument for the U.S. to do nothing. That's an argument for the U.S. to step up and take leadership."
He was also critical of the call for an "all of the above" energy strategy--a term that President Obama has used often to refer to his energy strategy. "Sure we should use all of our resources, but what we really need is a comprehensive strategy that reduces CO2 emissions," said Kaine.
He called for continued investment in the research and development of technology to capture emissions from coal. "On fossil fuels, we have to take any action we can that gets us from dirty to less dirty," he said. "We need coal. We're going to be using it for a while. We've got to innovate to make coal cleaner."
Senator Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) devoted much of her floor speech Monday night to the subject of China. Specifically, she challenged the oft-repeated argument that the United States should not act on reducing greenhouse gas emissions unless major developing nations like China do, too.
"We have people on the Republican side begging us, 'Don't do anything until China,'" said Boxer. She held up a photo of a group of people in China biking through thick smog, their faces covered with masks. She pointed to research from last year that found that air pollution is now the fourth-leading cause of premature death in China, as well a period last fall where particulate pollution was found to be 40 times the maximum that the World Health Organization recommends.
"They called it an 'airpocalypse,'" said Boxer. "They had to close highways because visibility was so bad."
"This is the country my colleagues say we ought to wait for before we start to tackle climate change?" she said. "You've got to be kidding me."
"We should not and we must not wait for other countries to act," Boxer continued. "We must take action now."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is not present for the Democrats' climate confab tonight. But he did take to the Senate floor earlier on Monday to criticize Democrats as "anti-coal liberals."
“There is a depression in Appalachia, an absolute depression. Families are losing work because of government attacks on the coal industry. Communities are hurting," said McConnell. “And tonight you’re going to hear 30 hours of excuses from a group of people who think that’s okay."
He also accused Democrats of only caring about climate change because of their donor base. “It’s cruel to tell struggling coal families that they can’t have a job because some billionaire from San Francisco disagrees with their line of work," said McConnell, alluding to Tom Steyer, a Democratic funder who is expected to spend at least 0 million electing lawmakers who support action on climate change in the 2014 election.
McConnell, meanwhile, has taken at least .4 million from oil, gas and mining interests over his career, according to Open Secrets.
The Senate's most passionate climate change denier, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe, took to the floor to deliver his own speech on the issue.
"It's probably necessary to have something that's all night, because you keep saying and I hear it over and over, 'climate change is real, it's real, it's real,'" said Inhofe. "Maybe if you keep saying it's real, people will believe it."
In a lengthy speech, Inhofe pulled from a grab-bag of denier talking points, arguing that "this is the worst scientific scandal of our generation."
"We have a lot of scientists on both sides of this issue," he said.
He accused Democrats of "trying to revive" climate change, "because the public is going the other direction."
BuzzFeed's Evan McMorris-Santoro reports that the White House--or at least, whoever runs the administration's Twitter feed--is planning to stay up all night, too:
A White House official said tweets from senior administration officials and the White House account will be posted Monday to support the Senate Democratic effort, which starts Monday evening and goes through 9 a.m. Washington time Tuesday.
McMorris-Santoro also quotes White House press secretary Jay Carney on the talkathon, from Monday's daily press briefing:
“We commend those who are participating, because it’s a very important subject that the president, as you know, is concerned about and has a climate action plan dedicated to addressing,” Carney said.
The 30 senators set to occupy the Senate floor Monday for an all-night talkathon on climate change have raised substantially less from the oil and gas industry in recent years than those who are not participating.
The action by the 30 senators is intended to raise attention on climate change, which has fallen off of the legislative map in recent years and was barely mentioned during the 2012 presidential campaign.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) tweets this picture:
Behind the scenes at #Up4Climate: Senators preparing for tonight’s speeches. http://t.co/3cT8kEp7GA— Sheldon Whitehouse (@SenWhitehouse) 3 years ago
Here's an excerpt from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid's opening remarks:
The seriousness of this problem is not lost on your average American. A large majority of Americans believe climate change is real.
A quarter century ago, Republican President George H.W. Bush promised to use the “White House effect” to combat the “greenhouse effect.” But despite overwhelming scientific evidence and overwhelming public opinion, climate change deniers still exist. They exist in this country and in this Congress.
And I am grateful to Senator Schatz, Senator Whitehouse and Senator Boxer – and many other Senators who will join this climate change debate tonight – for standing up to the deniers. It's time to stop acting like those who ignore this crisis – the oil baron Koch brothers and their allies in Congress – have a valid point of view.
-- Kate Sheppard
Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) took the floor first on Monday night.
Addressing our climate crisis is not just a question of morality or ethics; it is a question of our own survival. #Up4Climate— Senator Harry Reid (@SenatorReid) 5 years ago