As 2019 comes to an end, I want to thank you for your support and encouragement, and give you a look behind the scenes at some of what we’ve been up to.
Oceans, climate change and dark money, and court capture have been our constant targets.
On oceans, we’ve expanded my bipartisan Oceans Caucus, moved a new bigger-better ocean plastics bill through three committees, and completed and begun rounding up cosponsors for a big bipartisan ocean data bill. We darned near got this ocean plastics bill passed as 2019 closed, but the clock ran out. I hope to pass both the marine plastics bill and the ocean data bill in 2020 — bipartisan and by unanimous consent, like all the previous measures we’ve passed via the Oceans Caucus.
Climate change has been a vexing problem, on which too much time has been wasted fussing about differences in legislation without achieving the conditions for victory. I’ve been working on two fronts.
One, pass what we can while we can. This year, we passed a bill called the SEA FUEL Act as part of the Defense Authorization bill to establish the first federal program dedicated to research and deployment of direct air carbon capture and ocean capture technologies. We also have our Clean Industrial Technology Act aimed at reducing industrial sector emissions; the USE IT Act, another carbon removal technology bill; and other energy technology bills teed up with bipartisan support; and we hope to pass those bills in 2020.
We set up a Science Defenders group to rapid-response phony climate denial and to enable strategic communications among scientists. It now numbers nearly 100 leading members of the scientific community. They’ve been amazing!
We have diligently spread the crash warnings about coastal property values and the “carbon bubble” by sending reports to every Senator, and letters to all Senate Banking Committee members, and queries to financial regulators about these looming hazards. Economic crash danger is also a constant topic of my weekly climate speeches (now through 260 speeches and going strong).
We had a horrible disappointment this year on “tax extenders” for solar, battery/storage, EVs, and wind. We only got one year for wind (including offshore, hurray), and we got skunked on the rest. This was a reminder of how important part two is: to set the conditions for victory.
This year was a long battle against the dark money forces behind climate obstruction. We went after the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, getting over a dozen Senators involved, and getting #ChamberofCarbon trending on Twitter. We went after Chamber board members, asking why they supported one of the worst climate obstructors in America, and what they know about the Chamber’s fossil fuel funding. We went after the National Association of Manufacturers similarly, and outed Marathon Petroleum as the dark force behind the attack on fuel efficiency standards. We visited multiple House committees and subcommittees, and testified in one, to urge investigations of fossil fuel dark money. We ran a Special Committee on the Climate Crisis hearing on dark money. We constantly pointed out that while fossil fuel CEOs say they support carbon pricing they are still funding obstruction, and that corporate America has so far put zero political effort into climate action.
We’ve caused some irritation, for sure, but as John Lewis would say, we “made good trouble.” And change is coming.
In federal courts, we filed multiple briefs pushing back on the Chamber in cases where it rears its ugly, climate-obstructing head. We filed briefs in two California cases and one in a Maryland case. We’ve also filed briefs in the Supreme Court and comments in administrative agencies pointing out the corrupting effect of dark money and how that has obstructed climate action. Most recently, we reviewed the EPA’s proposal to scrap rules limiting planet-warming methane pollution from oil and gas facilities as the illegal product of a captured agency.
You’ll notice that the climate topic has morphed into the dark money topic. That’s because they are two sides of the same evil coin. Before Citizens United unleashed unlimited money (which instantly became unlimited dark money), we had all sorts of bipartisanship in the Senate on climate — I saw it firsthand. Now, the first tendrils of bipartisanship are beginning to re-emerge, after a decade lost to dark money. The science is too strong; the experiences of farmers and fishermen and victims of flood and wildfire are all too real; hell, Republicans’ home state universities are teaching climate change; and young Republicans want no part of the denial. I am in multiple bipartisan conversations, most very secret, but some quite promising.
We led the charge to expose the dark money effort to capture federal courts. This involved filing some uncomfortable legal briefs; writing multiple well-documented articles; and speaking out in the press, in speeches and in hearings (this was the centerpiece of my Kavanaugh comments). Newsweek profiled our efforts. My National Law Journal article on the Court became its most-read piece of the year. We worked closely with the American Constitution Society to fact-check ourselves on the heart of the problem: then 73, now up to 80, partisan 5-4 Supreme Court decisions under Roberts that gave big wins to Republican donor interests. Yep, you read that right: 80. (How Democrats let this get so far without blowing the whistle is a question to ponder.)
We’ve worked to expose all the dark money surrounding the Court: the anonymously-funded Federalist Society operation that picks judges; the anonymously-funded Judicial Crisis Network operation that campaigns for them; and the anonymously-funded litigants and amici who make the Court their political playground, teeing up those 80 partisan decisions. No Court should be so enmired in dark money.
Improving the quality of health care available to Rhode Islanders while lowering costs remains a high priority. I was pleased to have secured funding to launch research into pancreatic cancer and an additional investment in ALS research in the year-end government funding measure, and Rhode Island groups are planning to take advantage of regulatory changes I obtained for patients with late-stage illnesses.
Much of our work this year was focused on bringing resources to Rhode Island. We secured more than $60 million to replace a busy section of I-95 in Providence, and were able to restore funding for mental health and suicide prevention services to support members of law enforcement. Programs I authored to curb the opioid addiction crisis that has affected so many Rhode Island families received robust funding in the end-of-year government funding bill.
Last, you’ll notice, I said “we” a lot. That’s not just the “Royal we.” That’s a credit to the very hard-working team in DC and RI that supports me and makes all this happen. We punch way above our weight, and venture into new territory, and take on big projects, while also accomplishing all the day-to-day legislative, committee and constituent work of a regular Senate office. That’s definitely worth a “we”!
I wish you — we wish you — a very happy new year.