July 11, 2016

Udall Speaks as Part of Effort to Reveal 'Web of Denial' to Deceive Public about Climate Change

VIDEO (Udall’s remarks begin at 1:13:29): http://www.c-span.org/video/?412552-1/us-senate-debates-defense-appropriations-bill&live&vod

WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall joined U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and many others in speaking on the Senate floor about how corporations and special interest groups are spending millions of dollars to create a “web of denial” to mislead the public about the harmful effects of climate change.

In his speech, Udall highlighted the efforts of the Western Fuel Association to create front-groups that sound technical and environmental, but which spread misleading and false claims to the American public in an effort to protect industry's bottom-line.

“There are many who have different agendas, agendas that aren’t rooted in truth or science,” Udall said. “And those agendas are playing out in our politics in the most disgraceful way possible — through the dark money that is poisoning the system and spreading lies to benefit the few.”

Udall defended the work of scientists at New Mexico’s national labs, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences and independent researchers at universities across America, who have found a definitive link between greenhouse gas pollution and global warming — work that global warming deniers are spending millions of dollars to discredit and disavow.

“This is not some ideological belief I share with my Senate colleagues. We wish global warming did not exist, and that it were not threatening our health, livelihoods and environment,” Udall said. “But it is real, and New Mexico and the Southwest are in the bulls-eye. We’re seeing it in the form of more frequent droughts, increasingly severe wildfire, rising temperatures. The data can’t be denied. Scientists can’t be ignored.”

Udall highlighted the importance of repairing our broken campaign finance system to combat lies and deception from the fossil fuel industry. Udall, along with Senate Democrats, recently introduced the We The People reform package to bring dark money out of the shadows, create a real watchdog to enforce campaign finance laws and rein in the influence of special interests and lobbyists. The reform package also includes Udall’s constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, Buckley v. Valeo and other disastrous Supreme Court decisions.

Below are Udall’s remarks as prepared for delivery:

Madam President, I rise to join my colleagues to draw attention to what we are calling the web of denial — inter-connected corporations and special interest groups spending millions of dollars misleading the public about the harmful effects of climate change.

Madam President, contrary to what these groups want the American people to think, climate change is a fact. Carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas and a byproduct of fossil fuels, is a major contributor to global warming. This is not some ideological belief I share with my Senate colleagues. We wish global warming did not exist, and that it were not threatening our health, livelihoods and environment. But it is real, and New Mexico and the Southwest are in the bulls-eye. We’re seeing it in the form of more frequent droughts, increasingly severe wildfire, rising temperatures. The data can’t be denied. Scientists can’t be ignored.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences and independent researchers at our most esteemed universities — all of them have written extensively about this link. Scientists at Los Alamos and Sandia National labs in New Mexico are key parts of this scientific effort. 

Madam President, we trust all of these institutions to perform the scientific research that is critical to our nation’s national security. They ensure our arsenal of nuclear weapons is safe and secure. So when these scientists tell us that man-made climate change is real and poses a serious threat, we should listen and take them seriously. The evidence has been mounting for decades. The research has been thorough and unbiased. And countries around the world have been pressing to address this challenge in a global manner. So why are people still trying to foster a debate? Why are they asking if global warming is really happening?

That’s what we’re here to discuss. The web of denial.

There are many who have different agendas, agendas that aren’t rooted in truth or science. And those agendas are playing out in our politics in the most disgraceful way possible — through the dark money that is poisoning the system and spreading lies to benefit the few. It started when industry became concerned that this link could harm the bottom-line. Over the years, industry groups have spent millions of dollars to influence the debate through dark money and front groups. Many of my colleagues have talked about this here today already. 

The evidence of this strategy is profound. An early example is the Information Council for the Environment, or I.C.E and the Greening Earth Society. These groups sound “technical” and “environmental.” But they weren’t. They were cooked up in the boardrooms of fossil fuel industry executives — people who put profits over public health. They were designed after focus groups and market data convinced them that the public trusted scientists more than politicians, and more than political activists, and certainly more than industry spokespeople. These groups, founded by the Western Fuels Association, aimed to reshape the global warming discussion. 

This was at a crucial time in the early 1990s. As the world was gathering in Rio and Kyoto to hammer out agreements and tackle the problem, I.C.E. ran several print and radio advertisements, asking: “If the Earth is getting warmer, why is Kentucky getting colder?” Another quote: “If the Earth is getting warmer, why is the frost line moving south?” And another: “Who told you the earth was warming, Chicken Little? And how much are you willing to pay to solve a problem that may not exist?” These questions and claims were misleading and false, but they helped to stir up the public — the public that was looking to trust independent scientists and analysts, not industry front groups.

Even more concerning, Madam President, is the way global warming deniers have refocused their strategies at discrediting scientists and the researchers. We have seen a terrible trend here. As the public has become more aware of these front-groups, they have changed their tack. Now they are working to discredit and disavow the credible scientists, charging that scientists have hidden agendas — more research dollars, more federal funding. I find this absurd and ominous.

Madam President, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the National Academy of Sciences, university researchers—their funding is transparent. The money is there for the public to see. None of these folks is getting rich. They don’t have profits to protect. They are providing the public with data and research.

But it’s getting harder and harder to stop these outside groups from spreading their smear campaigns. These groups have an interest in making sure Congress never gets anything done to prevent climate change. And they are using our broken campaign finance system as a tool to keep it that way.

We used to have sensible laws on campaign finance. We used to have an enforcement agency, a watchdog over the campaign finance system. But the laws have been gutted by the Supreme Court’s devastating decisions. And the enforcement agency, the Federal Election Commission, has become completely dysfunctional and mired in gridlock, leaving Super PACs and special interests free to pollute the political system with unlimited dark money — and always to protect someone’s bottom-line. The way Western Fuels Association and so many other companies have put pollution above public health. We need to fix the system.

A few months ago, several of my colleagues and I got together to discuss the state of our democracy. The question we asked ourselves was what can we do to repair this damage, to return the government to the people? To a government by and for the people. The product of those meetings is the bill we introduced last month, the We the People Act. It will bring dark money out of the shadows, create a real watchdog to enforce campaign finance laws, rein in the influence of special interests and lobbyists. The We the People reform package also includes my constitutional amendment to overturn Buckley, Citizens United, and other decisions. It will allow Congress and the states to enact real reforms, to get the flood of money out of our political system — laws that five conservative justices on the Supreme Court can’t overturn.

I know the political climate of an election year makes bipartisanship unlikely. But, I will re-introduce the We the People reform package in the next Congress and I hope my Republican colleagues will join me. Poll after poll shows that our constituents across the political spectrum want reforms — tackling climate change, eliminating dark money from our politics and standing up to groups that distort public perceptions. It’s time we listened. Our democracy and our environment and the planet are at stake.