Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Rhode Island for his leadership day in and day out on this issue. I rise to join him and my other colleagues to talk about this letter and to look back at that moment in time but really to do it to look forward because we know it is long past time for bipartisan action on climate change. As the Senator from Rhode Island has explained with a copy of that letter, back in 1986, a bipartisan group of Senators came together to voice their concerns about the future of our world. This forward-thinking group of our predecessors, who were from the same States as my colleagues who are here today, held 3 days of hearings on climate change. That sounds like a pretty good idea for something we should be doing right now. It was chaired by, of course, the Republican Senator from Rhode Island, Mr. John Chafee. Minnesota Senator David Durenberger was among that group of Senators. He was born in St. Cloud. He earned his law degree from the University of Minnesota, was the top-rated cadet in his ROTC class, and served as a lieutenant in the Army Counter Intelligence Corps and as a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Senator Durenberger took over the seat left by Senator Humphrey, and during his 17 years of service in the Senate, Senator Durenberger proved time and again that he is a true believer in bipartisanship. He worked across the aisle to tackle big issues, and that included talking about climate change way back in 1986. I called Senator Durenberger this week to talk to him, and our staff did, to get some sense of where he was on climate change years later. He reported to us that, in his words, he wanted to remind Americans there was a time in our very recent history when the U.S. Senate made it its responsibility to define and address some of the critical national and international policy issues that threaten the security of our communities, our Nation, and the world. This is Senator Durenberger speaking in the year 2019. He said he could say ‘‘without reservation that it was bipartisan Senate leadership that encouraged the four Presidents with whom [he] served—Carter, Reagan, [George H.W.] Bush, and Clinton—to prioritize environmental problem definition and solution.’’ He also recalled working with his colleagues on the Environment and Public Works Committee to ‘‘challenge’’—and these are his words—‘‘challenge the scientific community and the business community to work harder at reducing the impact [of greenhouse gases] and suggesting what policies best incentivize alternative fuels.’’
It was in this bipartisan spirit that this group of Senators sent a letter to Dr. John Gibbons, who was then the executive director of the Office of Technology Assessment. In that letter, they talked about the need to meet ‘‘the massive and, to some degree irrevocable, alterations in the stratosphere commonly referred to as the greenhouse effect.’’ The letter goes on to discuss concerns about ‘‘altered precipitation and storm patterns,’’ something certainly the Senator from Rhode Island knows we are seeing right now. These Senators were ahead of their time—altered precipitation and storm patterns. ‘‘[M]ore frequent and extreme weather events,’’ they talked about that. Look at what we are seeing with the hurricanes, with the rising sea levels, and with the wildfires in Colorado and in California.
‘‘[D]isruption of forest, crop, and ocean productivity.’’ That letter may have been sent in 1986, but certainly those Democratic and Republican Senators were ahead of their time. Americans are now increasingly feeling the effects of changing climate patterns and extreme weather events. Farmers are already living through these disruptions to crop productivity. So what else did the letter say? Well, it said this: ‘‘We are deeply troubled by the prospect of such a rapid and unprecedented change in the composition of the atmosphere and its implications for the human and natural worlds.’’ It also stated that ‘‘it may be necessary to act soon to at least slow these trends or, perhaps, halt them altogether.’’ Think of those words way back in 1986 asking us to act soon. They were right back then, and they are still right today.
The true tragedy is that the final paragraph of the letter notes that any analysis should be undertaken without delay ‘‘due to the likelihood that legislation will be seriously considered by the Committee early in the next Congress.’’ Well, the truth is, we are still waiting for that legislation to be seriously considered. The bipartisan call in that 1986 letter came in the 99th Congress, and we are now beginning the 116th. Just as troubling, we have lost some of the bipartisan spirit that guided David Durenberger and those 1986 lawmakers. Our inaction has outlasted even the Office of Technology Assessment itself. I ask my colleagues, in the spirit of bipartisanship—from back in 1986, my colleague Senator Durenberger, who I hope is listening today—let us continue that spirit, and let’s get some serious climate legislation to the floor of the U.S. Senate. I yield the floor.