Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act--

Floor Speech

Date: March 13, 2018
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Environment


Ms. HIRONO. Mr. President, when we discuss climate change, we often speak about the future--a future in which rising temperatures and seas displace millions from their homes around the globe, devastate agriculture, and damage critical infrastructure. This future is not far off.

Climate change will impact every State in our country and every country in the world. In island and coastal communities like Hawaii, the impact will be particularly severe.

Climate scientists across the world agree that without decisive action, seas will likely rise by at least 3.2 feet by the end of the century. To put this in context, a child born today will likely experience these effects in their lifetime.

I will focus my remarks today on the foreseeable impact on Hawaii.

The State of Hawaii investigated and issued a chilling report about what a 3.2-foot sea level rise would mean for our State. The report concluded that 3.2 feet of sea level rise would inundate more than 25,000 acres of land across Hawaii. Over 6,500 hotels, malls, small businesses, apartments, and homes would be compromised or destroyed, and 20,000 residents would be displaced in the process.

The economic cost of this damage--$19 billion. If anything, this is a conservative estimate of the total economic cost of climate change in Hawaii. The State report, for example, doesn't estimate the total cost of damage to Hawaii's critical infrastructure.

Climate change and sea level rise would damage sewer lines in urban Honolulu and other low-lying areas across the State. These phenomena would also lead to chronic flooding across 38 miles of major roads, such as the Kuhio Highway on Kauai, Kamehameha Highway on Oahu, and Honoapiilani Highway on Maui.

The State's report certainly outlines the serious challenges that climate change will pose for the future, but we are already living with its effects.

Each summer and winter, the specific placement of the sun and moon combined with the rotation of the Earth produce extraordinarily high tides. We call them king tides. Most years, scientists can predict when these tides will happen and how bad they will be. Last year's king tides, however, were the worst on record. Scientists believe that these historic king tides provide a glimpse of the increasing severity and frequency of the coastal flooding driven by climate change. Hawaii also experienced an exceptionally rare king tide on New Year's Day, and a larger than normal north swell caused major coastal erosion on Oahu's north shore.

Coastal erosion is a critical issue for Hawaii, where our beaches draw millions of visitors from around the world every year. According to research from the University of Hawaii Sea Grant College Program, 70 percent of the beaches in Hawaii are eroding, and 13 miles of public beach have eroded completely. In other words, they are gone.

During last year's king tides, Sea Grant mobilized citizen scientists to document their impact on the State. From Sea Grant's research we learned that record-high water levels caused localized flooding and erosion across every island in the State. Waikiki Beach was particularly impacted last year when the king tides overwashed the shoreline during peak tourist season. Climate change will make events like this more frequent and severe, adversely impacting our environment and our economy.

Waikiki Beach on Oahu alone generates $2.2 billion for Hawaii's economy every year, and it could be completely submerged by the end of the century. There is a clear urgency to act, and we need our President and the Federal Government to acknowledge the threat and to lead.

We need more funding for programs like Sea Grant that help State and local governments develop plans and policies to help our beaches, our coasts, and our economy adapt to climate change. But at a time when we should be increasing funding for Sea Grant colleges, the Trump administration is zeroing out this funding. We were able to protect funding for Sea Grant last year, and I will continue to fight during this year's budget and appropriations cycle to make sure it receives the money it needs to do its important work.

We also need our Federal agencies to invest in research that will help us better understand climate change's long-term impact on our States and communities. But Donald Trump has appointed--and his Republican allies in the Senate have confirmed--regressive, dangerous, and extreme nominees who are undermining critical climate change research.

Last May, the Department of Interior under the leadership of Ryan Zinke, put out a news release about a report on climate change-related sea level rise, coauthored by two Hawaii scientists without ever mentioning in their release the words ``climate change.''

Earlier today, I asked Secretary Zinke at a hearing to comment on this incident and to clarify whether it is the Department's policy to censor announcements about climate change research produced by his Department. Secretary Zinke acknowledged that the content of the press release is his prerogative but that he would not censor the contents of documents and reports themselves. However, by not referencing the term ``climate change'' in a press release on a report about how climate change drives sea level rise, he is toeing the President's line that climate change is a hoax. The problem is that press releases from agencies like the Interior Department serve as indicators of the Federal Government's priorities. By eliminating references to climate change in these releases, the Department is sending a clear signal that climate change is not a priority.

In the absence of Federal action, States like Hawaii are stepping up and taking the lead. Hawaii was the first State in the country to enact legislation to implement the Paris climate agreement after President Trump announced that he would withdraw the United States from this agreement without much reason.

Standing up to the challenge of climate change also means developing our renewable resources of energy and moving away from dependence on fossil fuels. Hawaii has set the forward-thinking goal of generating 100-percent renewable electricity by 2045. Through decisive action, Hawaii is already generating 27-percent renewable electricity while cutting oil imports by 41 percent since 2006. As the most oil-dependent State in the country, this is significant progress.

Over 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the climate is changing due to human activity, and the vast majority of the American public also acknowledges this. Our Nation's military recognizes the threat that climate change poses to our national security and the urgent need to confront it.

Mr. President, I agree with my colleague from Rhode Island that it is time to wake up.