Sheldon Whitehouse
U.S. Senator, Rhode Island

The debate in Congress over climate change has heightened now that Democrats control the House of Representatives and make the issue one of their top priorities in 2019. But how much can they accomplish in the face of resistance from the Trump Administration and a Republican-led Senate? And what specifically will they work on?

In this edition of the Columbia Energy Exchange podcast, host Bill Loveless sits down with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, one of the most outspoken advocates of policies to address climate change in Congress. He often addresses the topic on the Senate floor with speeches he calls “Time to Wake Up!” And he’s been a sponsor of legislation to put a price on carbon emissions, too.

But the Rhode Island Democrat is also known for reaching across the political aisle to work with Republicans on bills to promote nuclear energy and carbon-capture technologies.

Bill met with Senator Whitehouse in his office to talk about what Democratic control of the House might mean for the climate debate in Congress this year, including what he makes of the movement for a Green New Deal. Their talk took place a couple of days before one of his colleagues, Sen. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., unveiled a resolution outlining goals of a Green New Deal. It also came as Senator Whitehouse and seven other Democrats and Republicans re-introduced legislation to help find profitable uses for captured carbon dioxide.

The conversation touched as well on his views on corporate spending on election campaigns and lobbying, and their impact on efforts to advance or block new climate policies in Congress.

Sen. Whitehouse is a graduate of Yale University and the University of Virginia School of Law. He was Rhode Island’s director of business regulation before being nominated by President Bill Clinton to be Rhode Island’s U.S. attorney in 1994. He was elected attorney general of Rhode Island in 1998, a position he held until 2003. In 2006, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he is a member of the Budget Committee, the Environment and Public Works Committee, the Judiciary Committee and the Finance Committee.

He and his wife Sandra, a marine biologist and environmental advocate, live in Newport, R.I.
 

VIEW TRANSCRIPT

[00:00:01]

Bill Loveless: The debate in congress over climate change has been heightened now. The democrats control the house of representatives and make the issue one of their top priorities in 2019. But how much can they accomplish in the face of resistance from the Trump administration at a Republican led senate. And what specifically will they work on. Hello and welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange. A weekly podcast from the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. From Washington, I’m Bill Loveless. Our guest today is a U.S. senator who has been at the forefront of those seeking action on climate change in congress. Sheldon Whitehouse addresses the topic regularly on the senate floor with speeches, he calls, “Time to wake up.” and he’s been a sponsor of legislation to put a price on carbon emissions. But there is more to the Rhode Island democrats agenda on climate and energy issues. For example, he’s known for reaching across the Isle to work with republicans on bills to promote nuclear energy and carbon capture technologies. So, I reached out to find out what he thinks democratic control of the house might mean for the climate debate in congress this year including what he makes of the movement for a green new deal. Our talk took place a couple of days before Senator Ed Marquee of Massachusetts and Representative Alexander Ocasio-Cortez of New York unveiled the resolution outlining goals of a green new deal. And it came as senator Whitehouse and seven other democrats and Republicans reintroduced legislation to help find profitable uses for captured carbon dioxide. We discussed to his views on corporate spending on election campaigns and lobbying and their impact on efforts to advance what block new climate policies in congress. Well, here is our conversation. I hope you enjoy it.

Senator Whitehouse, welcome to the Columbia Energy Exchange.

[00:01:56]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Thank you. Very good to be with you.

[00:02:00]

Bill Loveless: No member of the senate has been more outspoken on the need for new policies to address climate change than you and now you have a lot more support, a lot more company in congress.

[00:02:10]

Sheldon Whitehouse: I do.

Bill Loveless: Democrats and control of the house of representatives. But the narrative is changing too as the green new deal becomes one of the hottest topics in town. What do you make of this movement?

[00:02:24]

Sheldon Whitehouse: I think things are turning in a very good direction. From a public narrative point of view, I do think the green new deal concept has helped reframe the issue a little bit or provide a narrative that is reengaging a lot of voters, particularly young voters. As a person in congress, I’m even more enthusiastic about the house being in democratic hands and the opportunity that provides us to do hearings, to do subpoenas and get real information. And ultimately, when we are ready to do a bill. I think that the problem here has been primarily that the fossil fuel industry has got the republican party pretty much by the throat and won’t let anybody do anything serious on climate. So, the fact that we are now no longer locked in under the republican party everywhere that the house is now free to act. Provides them real opportunities because the story is a good one now.

[00:03:44]

Bill Loveless: Right. And you’ve taken a number of steps over the past several years here in the senate, I mean you regularly do your time to take up, presentations on the house floor.

[00:03:53]

Sheldon Whitehouse: The Chinese water torture here on the senate floor. One day, it will be one extra drop and they will all come running and say okay we’ll finally do a bill.

[00:04:02]

Bill Loveless: And even introduce bills on this very topic including a bill to establish a price on carbon, a carbon fee. But just getting back to where we are at right now when in terms of what’s realistic. Let’s get back to this green new deal because that’s what I was trying to sort out right now. It’s very aspirational, it seems and while we may see in coming days more details in terms of what should be in a green new deal, what do you think should be in a green new deal?

[00:04:30]

Sheldon Whitehouse: I think before we get into that conversation, we have to prepare ourselves for the conflict ahead. So, I think, the thing that the fossil fuel industry would like more than anything else is to have democrats arguing with each other about what should or should not be in a green new deal before we are actually ready to legislate.

[00:04:54]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:04:55]

Sheldon Whitehouse: And I think that before we legislate, there are few tasks that we have to get out of the way. One is, we’ve got to display to the American people, the extent to which the fossil fuel industry is funding the activities that are blocking climate change legislation in congress. We haven’t been able to do that. We haven’t been able to subpoena, we haven’t been able to get executives in. We haven’t been able to follow dark money channels. We haven’t been able to do any of that until now. The house is still forming its committees but there are a number of committees that will be able to do this and I think that the story that the American people will discover is that the fossil fuel industry which has the biggest conflict of interest in the history of the republic has been spending tens, if not hundreds of millions of dollars often hidden through front groups and dark money channels in order to politically obstruct climate legislation. And when that happens and as we develop that story, the detective story of that plays out, I think that changes this from a narrative that the fossil fuel industry and the republicans have confected of, you know, polar bears versus jobs to wait a minute, this is a scam. And it’s paid for by these rascals and they have been hiding it from me. And that, I think is very important for us to press forward on and then there is gonna be some combination of the leave it in the ground legislation, a price on carbon and a green new deal then that becomes feasible. But fighting over what the price at the end of the battle looks like before you readied yourself for battle is a terrible sequence.

[00:06:36]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. But you must have some views just given how much time you’ve invested in this subject in terms of what makes sense. I mean, you have the carbon tax legislation and I assume that’s something that you will continue to advocate for in this senate.

[00:06:52]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Oh, actually in the short run, the most important climate change legislation, we can pass is probably the disclosure bill. So the people could keep track of where the dark money is going. Because in my view, our failure to act on climate and the dark money operation that the fossil fuel industry runs are actually two sides of the same coin. And if we could out the money flows out of the fossil fuel industry so that the American public saw who is behind all these nonsense then, I think we move very quickly on to a happier place where we can be actually legislating.

[00:07:29]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, there is plans for that sort of legislation right now that you’re funding?

[00:07:31]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, HR1. The number one bill that speaker Pelosi put forward when the democrats took over was a series of reform and transparency initiatives with the disclosed act as the central component.

[00:07:48]

Bill Loveless: What you’ve… I’d like to get back to, sort of the carbon bill because it’s been the carbon tax because there has been a lot of discussion over that lately. There was an editorial in the letter in the Wall Street Journal recently by some 45 or so economists, former members, former economists who headed the Fed, the Federal Reserve, former chief economist at the White House, from Republican and Democratic administration saying a carbon tax is the best way to address climate change. So, prevalent view among economist but it’s not one among politicians.

[00:08:21]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah. It’s a more or less universal view among economists. I mean, there is very little quarrel about that. Among politicians, it’s not so clear because politicians are answering a different imperative and that is that the fossil fuel industry will cut off funding to republican party if the republican party doesn’t do what the fossil fuel industry wants.

[00:08:40]

Bill Loveless: Right. But is that something that, do you plan to work further on a carbon tax in this?

[00:08:46]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, I actually call my carbon fee because I have accepted the proposition of a lot of the republicans out of office who have supported a carbon fee that it should not be a vehicle for the government. You shouldn’t use the revenues as a source to fund government programs.

[00:09:08]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:09:09]

Sheldon Whitehouse: So, if you accept that, then I think it’s also fair enough to call it a tax because a tax is what you raise to fund government programs. If you’re just having charging a fee to pollute and returning that fee back to the American people, I think it’s a different conversation.

[00:09:24]

Bill Loveless: Which is the bulk of _____ [00:09:27].

[00:09:25]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Which is the way, our bill works. The advantages of a putting a price on carbon, a fee or a tax call it what you will is two fold. One, it is an offset to a market failure. That was probably the key phrase in that Wall Street Journal editorial. The fossil fuel industry is protecting a market failure. So, everybody who claims to be a free marketeer and to be a market economist and to be a free market republican, they need to get their policies in line with their principles on this. Because frankly, the fossil fuel industry has talked the party to the point where it’s abandoning its free market principles in favor of a massive, massive subsidy to this industry which, out of which money, the fossil fuel industry then pays a little bit back into the republican party that keep them in line. So, we’ve got to solve the market problem. The other thing, it’s just way, way, way more efficient and it’s scorable. So, you can go to groups like resources in the future and they can take a look at it and they can say, if you do this, we can anticipate that these following things will happen. And therefore we can predict whether or not you’ll hit the 1.5 degree centigrade cap. Not perfectly but better than other ways. So, it’s our best predictor and the last thing is that it’s actually quite easy to balance between different countries.

[00:11:00]

Bill Loveless: What do you mean by that?

[00:11:00]

Sheldon Whitehouse: So, like if you’ve got a cement plant in Texas and you’ve got a cement plant in Mexico, if a carbon fee is paid by the cement plant in Texas, and the only thing that happens is that it loses its business to the cement plant in Mexico, may ship it across the border. You haven’t gained any ground.

[00:11:18]

Bill Loveless: You’ve had some sort of border adjustment.

[00:11:20]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Border adjustment. And because a fee like this is very easy to determine to make the border adjustment and apply the requisite tariff or pay back to the American company is much easier to do that I feel operating in a regulatory mode and you’re trying to compare one nation’s regulatory scheme on carbon emissions with another nation’s regulatory scheme on carbon and trying to monetize the two and balance.

[00:11:47]

Bill Loveless: Right, right.

[00:11:48]

Sheldon Whitehouse: And you see this as a global problem, a price on carbon is a very important component of the solution because its internationalizble, if that’s a word.

[00:11:57]

Bill Loveless: Right. So, should it be part of a green new deal?

[00:12:00]

Sheldon Whitehouse: I think that when we are prepared, when we have done the leg work to win this battle which I think, we can do, then there will be components of price on carbon, components of green new deal, components of leave it in the ground that emerge as part of the ultimate resolution of all of these. And by the way, there is no reason to wait for the ultimate resolution. You can do bips of green new deal in a infrastructure bill. You can do bips of green new deal in a tax bill. So, we have to be alert to opportunities that come along. But the new deal wasn’t one piece of legislation. It was like over a dozen pieces, new deal.

[00:12:39]

Bill Loveless: Right.

[00:12:41]

Sheldon Whitehouse: So, we shouldn’t constrain ourselves to where we can get it all and fight about what should be in all. We should be gaining ground where we can, when we can.

[00:12:48]

Bill Loveless: Well, that makes me think of how you have introduced bills and including a legislation that’s been enacted into law in the past two or three years along with republicans to promote things like carbon capture technology and nuclear energy and it may be surprising to some to see your name alongside that of Jim and Hoffer of Oklahoma and John Braso of Wyoming, Mitch McConnell. But you have been part of these bills and I have to say again, these are sort of aspects of that haven’t seem to surface yet in the discussions about green new deal, things like nuclear energy and even carbon capture. Perhaps because they will be capturing the carbon from oil and gas production, that sort of thing. But you’ve worked in those kinds of bills, sort of small bills.

[00:13:42]

Sheldon Whitehouse: We’ve had success in those areas and I think it’s important, you know. We are going to have one hell of a problem. And every little bit that we can reduce the damage that we are causing to our one and only planet we need to pursue that because we don’t know now exactly what the final increment of balance is where something really bad could go wrong. So, you have to continue to fight for the big things but you’ve also got to try to put every one of the small things in the portfolio as soon as you can. And supporting nuclear power has the added benefit of some of the innovations pointing towards a potential solution to our nuclear waste stockpile as well. So, that could be a two forth. It could not only be carbon free energy but also carbon free energy that works its way through our nuclear waste stockpile for which we have no plan. So, that would be, I think very helpful and I think carbon capture we’re seeing increasingly as necessary and once the technology proves itself and the prices start to fall, I think you’ll find that a reasonable price on carbon is enough to reward carbon capture that the market will allow this technology to develop.

[00:15:03]

Bill Loveless: And that topic seems to be getting more attention in the past couple of years. It seems, I recall a lot more interest in carbon capture and even capturing carbon directly from the air.

[00:15:15]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Canadians have a plan. I’ve been to Saskatchewan that is successfully removing carbon from a power plant. Bill _____ [00:15:22] is very active investments in carbon removal just from the air. There have been successful efforts to like Iceland, I think it is to capture carbon from the air and pump it down into the strata underneath us where it reacts chemically with the types of stone that’s there and binds. So you don’t have to worry about it leaking back out again. There is a lot of interesting good work being done in our national labs and in the world’s universities to try to solve this problem. Somebody is gonna make a bundle of money if it turns out that you can be rewarded for removing carbon from the air. You can figure out a way to do it that’s inexpensive.

[00:16:11]

Bill Loveless: Yeah. And I mean, for some of your co-sponsors among the republicans on a bill like that. Their interest is, you know, to try to be helpful to the oil and gas, the fossil fuel industry. I mean John Braso said that one of the co-sponsors of that bill said his homestead of Wyoming is blessed with an abundant supply of coal, oil and natural gas and these are things he doesn’t want to be stranded in the ground. I mean, do you feel it all conflicted when you worked on behalf of the bill like that, that it may help also for the fossil fuel producers.

[00:16:43]

Sheldon Whitehouse: You know, my purpose here is not to try to hurt fossil fuel producers or employees. My purpose is to try to keep our planet from increasing more than 1.5 degrees centigrade. If there is a technology that allows us to do that, so that those two things can work in tandem, I’m not gonna object to that. I don’t think that the way it is. I think, we are gonna have to leave most of that stuff in the ground. I think that there is gonna be some real financial problems for those companies. I do not believe they’re being candid with their shareholders at all about this risk and think they’ve got shareholder derivative liability problems from their lack of candor. So, I think there is a real mess in the coal and in the oil and gas industry on the subject. But hypothetically, if you could get to a point where they could continue to pollute and it was cheaper to simply remove the pollution from the air than it was to stop them from providing energy that would be a solution that is okay with me because it protects the planet. It stays under 1.5 degrees. I don’t think that’s gonna happen. I think we probably gonna have to take a very hard line with these companies and I think a lot of the litigation that they are involved in is gonna bring to the surface a lot of the mischief that they have done.

[00:18:03]

Bill Loveless: You know, your interest in nuclear energy is interesting too. There is because the, you know, there has been a lot of push for the renewable, 100% renewable energy when it comes to electricity production. Again, that’s part of the proponents of the green new deal have called for that, a 100% renewable energy from power plants or for electricity production by 2035 or whatever. I mean, does that make sense that we would set a target to be so relied on renewables only for electric production?

[00:18:38]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, I think that, that is probably very doable. The price of renewables continue to fall. So, even if you took the environmental externalities that are lurking and threaten the[00:18:56] as a planet. Even if you took those off the table, I think renewables are gonna clean the clock of fossil fuel in the next decade anyway. They have already begun to. You already have existing proposals for gas plants being pulled down for renewables. You already have operating coal plants being shut off for renewables just on price. So, I think the economics of this are moving rapidly towards renewables and that’s before you have any serious support for distributed generation, battery storage and some of the other capacities that can more efficiently balance the daylight, nighttime, windy day, still day, concerns that now are solved by the grid with algorithms and by, you know, spreading the risk across the grid. But I think, there is a very, very, very solid green future with stuff that we build in America and that will be good for all of us.

[00:20:03]

Bill Loveless: But at the same time, you feel like nuclear energy should be part of the next…

[00:20:08]

Sheldon Whitehouse: I think it can be a part of it. But the two attractions for nuclear energy. One, it’s heartbreaking to me to see a safely operating nuclear plant close down so that a gas burner can be put up to replace it. All because nobody is paying the nuclear plant for the carbon free value of its power compared to the gas plant which gets to pollute for free. That just shouldn’t be. Bad economics, bad policy, bad environment, bad everything. The other problem is we have had a lot of bad early on nuclear technology. We’re now at the cusp, I think of nuclear innovation that might allow future nuclear plants to run off what we now have on hand as nuclear waste. We can’t take it around. It’s still mostly stays at the plant where it was originally burned. It is all over the place. It is dangerous. It is a hazard for thousands, tens of thousands of years. And we’ve got no plan for it. If we can take that waste, that liability, that hazard and turn it into something that is of actual positive value, that is something that is worth pursuing.

[00:21:18]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. New technology, new fuels, new nuclear fuels.

[00:21:22]

Sheldon Whitehouse: New ways to treat the waste so that it can become safe nuclear fuel.

[00:21:26]

Bill Loveless: Yeah. I mean, I raise that. Only because some feel, some are critics of the 100% renewable energy for electricity aspect because you feel it ignores nuclear, most evidently. And that it’s, you know, it’s not quite realistic. But you’re not troubled so much by the 100%, that calls for a 100%. But you want to make sure nuclear is still new nuclear, nuclear technology is still part of the consideration.

[00:21:53]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, for two reasons. One, I feel, when a real race, and every time a new gas plant comes up, who’s only reason for existing is because a nuclear plant isn’t being paid fairly for the carbon free nature of its power, that’s very unfortunate thing from a climate perspective and if we do in fact get to a point where we can solve our nuclear waste problem by burning it and making clean power, that’s a hell of a accomplishment and we should pursue that.

[00:22:22]

Bill Loveless: Right, right. I know, as you’ve discussed, you’re a big critic of the fossil fuel lobby and you feel, you find a lot of support in the Trump administration.

[00:22:22]

Sheldon Whitehouse: That’s one of the more disgraceful pieces of human behavior in human history with what they’ve done. And they know how awful they are because they try to hide. Right, if they were upfront about this, it would be a whole different thing. But instead, they are hiding behind the CATO institute, the _____ [00:22:47] institute and donor’s trust and all these dark money 501C4. So they know, as well as I do that they are up to no good.

[00:22:56]

Bill Loveless: Yeah. I mean individual oil companies, majors have stepped up and said they are going to do more on the climate Exxon Mobil. They have spent a million dollars for the climate leadership councils idea but that’s not persuasive.

[00:23:08]

Sheldon Whitehouse: That’s not persuasive to me at this point. I think that, at this point they’re still at the stage of want to be able to get through, have the CEO, get through a cocktail party at Davos without being shunned by his peers. So, they have to say it right thing. But while they are saying the right thing, what they are doing with the American Petroleum Institute with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, with the National Association of Manufacturers, with other lobby groups that they fund is to go out and tell them what he’s saying, don’t ever let that happen. Don’t you dare. And I think they are speaking out of both of sides of their mouths and I think they know it. And I’m glad that Exxon put a million dollars into a 501C4 that is not yet operational or has pledged a million dollars to a 501C4 that is not yet operational. But when you look at what Exxon is funding on the other side of the table, it’s not even close. And until they’ve really agreed to knock it off and to be good citizens and quit funding climate denial and climate obstruction, I’m gonna be impatient with them.

[00:24:14]

Bill Loveless: You’ve also talked about what you call the good guy organizations that, you know, promote climate action in congress. But suggest maybe they are not doing enough. I pulled a quote from a speech you gave at the American Enterprise Institute in 2017 after you introduced your carbon price legislation with senator Brian shots of Hawaii and you said then quote, “Over 1000 American companies voiced their support for the Paris climate agreement including corporate powerhouses like Walmart, Goldman Sachs, Pepsico and Google. If Americans companies were to mobilizing congress like they did for the Paris agreement, it would be a game changer. What do you mean by that?

[00:24:51]

Sheldon Whitehouse: True. It would be an instant game changer. Not one of those companies takes any serious effort in congress on climate change. Tech net is the group that trade group for Silicon Valley, Google, Apple, Microsoft, Facebook, Salesforce, massive companies, huge companies. Enormous amounts of money and also riding along with them a lot of green energy companies. Yet tech net comes to Washington to lobby, doesn’t make climate change a priority. Coke and Pepsi, the two drink companies have two of the best climate policies inside their corporate precincts of anywhere in corporate America. But they lobby us through the American Beverage Association which doesn’t lift a finger and they run money through the American Beverage Association to the Chamber of Commerce which is probably the most powerful enemy of climate action. So, if you take Coke and Pepsi and you look at their footprint in congress, it is adverse to their publicly stated position on climate. And everybody is getting away with it. There are no Patagonia, the clothing manufacturing company might be the one exception to the rule. The rest of them are doing either nothing or through their trade associations less than nothing and so, let’s say, hypothesize that you’re a republican who sees that climate change is a real problem. Wants to get on the right side of the issue but doesn’t want to undertake a political suicide mission. You look at, it looks look a Soviet may day parade of political weaponry that is being arrayed by the fossil fuel industry. If you dare to cross them, and you look to the other side of the field where the rest of corporate America which is probably a 100 times as wealthy and strong as the fossil fuel industry and they haven’t showed up. The benches are empty.

[00:26:54]

Bill Loveless: To borrow a term, thinking from senator Sheldon Whitehouse is a getaway car for republicans who maybe sympathetic to these issues.

[00:27:01]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, yeah, yeah.

[00:27:02]

Bill Loveless: What is that?

[00:27:02]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Well, the getaway car, I think is price on carbon. Every republican who has come down on the climate issue has come to that as the solution. The question is between the republicans and the senate who want to do something and the getaway car that they agree to, what can get them under the barb wire and through the guard towers that the fossil fuel industry has erected to keep them from getting to the getaway car and that is where the rest of corporate America comes in. Whether they snuck them out through a tunnel or just tell the guards to shut up or you know, had them escort out in limousines, I don’t care.

[00:27:42]

Bill Loveless: Okay. But what’s likely to change? Is anything, what’s likely to happen over the next two years of this issue given this whole scenario that you…

[00:27:52]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, I think the public is gonna see a lot more what mischief the fossil fuel industry has been up to. When the public saw what the tobacco industry had been doing, lying about the dangers of tobacco, that was a real phased shift in public perception. A similar thing is close with the fossil fuel industry.

[00:28:10]

Bill Loveless: Building a narrative over the next two years that might lead to 2020.

[00:28:14]

Sheldon Whitehouse: A narrative, a bill and an alliance. Those are the three things, we need. The narrative, I think, we’re well on our way to. The bill, give us a little bit of time. Don’t rush it. Realize, we have to win the narrative and win the political battle first. And then the alliance is part of winning that political battle. But the American public should know that all their favorite companies which advertize. I just watched the Super Bowl. Budweiser ran the Clivesdale through the field of wind turbines to show their affinity for wind power which is great. But when the beer industry comes to congress to lobby, do you think it lifts a finger for climate legislation? No, not a bit. And all of these industries together whether it’s the big banks, the big tech companies, the big consumer companies, the beer companies. If they all got together and came under republicans in congress and said, look kids, you have been messing around long enough. It’s over. We want a climate bill. We will not support anybody who is not for climate bill. We have a climate bill.

[00:29:22]

Bill Loveless: Right. But change is, it takes a lot of time to change, the public attitude as well as the politicians.

[00:29:31]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, but the public attitudes are leading the politicians attitude. I mean, we are looking at 73% now of Americans that say climate change is real and serious. 69% according to latest poll. I’ll use the word worried about it. This is not a problem of the public not being there. This is a problem of the public being there and the political system not responding to the public because a very powerful special interest is using every means at its disposal to keep the political system tied up in knots.

[00:30:03]

Bill Loveless: Do you think there is a risk that the strong push again getting on things like green new deal from progressive maybe off putting to some. Certainly republicans who maybe thinking about being more proactive on climate change or maybe elements of the public as well. Just see too much of a push to the left on the issue.

[00:30:03]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Well, I think, if you’re a republican looking for an opportunity to join your bid is probably not gonna be the green new deal. But I think a part of the equation is the excitement that has been generated around the notion of a green new deal will bring political pressure and political interest to this issue. So, that republicans who have to run in 2020, I think are gonna have to pay a lot more attention, particularly if they want younger voters. They are at risk of losing a generation and losing the battle for their reputation as a party of integrity.

[00:31:01]

Bill Loveless: You know, last week senator, what do you think people need to see here know about climate change, they may not already?

[00:31:09]

Sheldon Whitehouse: You know, I don’t really think that there is all that much. If I was to add anything because we’re a terrestrial creatures, it would be to, you know, have people learn a little bit more about what’s going on in the oceans and how very, very serious what’s happening in the oceans is. We’re heating up the oceans at the rate of a four and a half hiroshima sized nuclear detonations per second. That’s how you could heat up the ocean as hot as the added heat of climate change is making it. It would take four and a half hiroshima nukes every second to add that amount of heat to the oceans. So, it is a really, really big deal what’s happening to the oceans and because we don’t live in them, that’s not our natural habitat. We see them, we sail on them. We ship goods across them. We fish out of them.

[00:31:09]

Bill Loveless: And of course, you’re from the ocean state.

[00:32:06]

Sheldon Whitehouse: We’re from the ocean state. So, I guess, the one thing, I would say is that we’ve got to be like really, really alert to how bad the problems are, we’re causing in the oceans. We like coral reefs but we also need an ocean that has coral reefs because that’s the incubator for so many of the things we end up seeing on our plates at dinner time. And we need the ocean to cool the planet. It’s our air-conditioner. It’s absorbed over 90% of the excess heat. It’s not gonna do that forever. So, we’ve got to pay attention to the oceans.

[00:32:41]

Bill Loveless: Right. And rising sea levels. I know that’s been a topic you’ve talked about.

[00:32:47]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah. When you come from the smaller state and it’s a coastal state, this business of rising sea levels not funny.

[00:32:51]

Bill Loveless: It’s worrisome.

[00:32:54]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah, that hits home.

[00:32:55]

Bill Loveless: There has been good coverage in the hometown paper of the providence journal recently on that very topic.

[00:33:00]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah. First street foundation has been doing that research starting in Florida going all the way up the coast.

[00:33:00]

Bill Loveless: Yeah. I think Columbia University is doing research.

[00:33:08]

Sheldon Whitehouse: Yeah. Columbia supports first street foundation. It’s a team effort.

[00:33:13]

Bill Loveless: It’s shown the potential risk of real estate along the shoreline in Rhode Island. Of course, it’s been the, that’s the topic that’s come up even else where, the national assessment, the National Climate Assessment.

[00:33:26]

Sheldon Whitehouse: And Freddy _____ [00:33:26] for Pete’s sake.

[00:33:27]

Bill Loveless: Yeah, yeah. So that’s…

[00:33:27]

Sheldon The big federal housing corporation has warned that the coastal properties values crash coming if we don’t get ahead of this.

[00:33:36]

Bill Loveless: Right. A lot to pay attention to. A lot to watch for. On the subject on Capitol Hill, certainly this year and certainly from here on and senator Whitehouse, thank you very much for taking the time.

[00:33:47]

Sheldon Whitehouse: My great pleasure. It’s good to be with you.

[00:33:49]

Bill Loveless: Thank you. Well, that’s our conversation. I hope you enjoyed it. For more information on the Center on Global Energy Policy, go to our website at Energypolicy.columbia.edu or find us on social media @ColumbiaUEnergy. For the Columbia Energy Exchange, I’m Bill Loveless. We’ll be back again next week with another conversation.