My Floor Speech on Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh’s Troubling Record on the Environment
I rise today to express my strong concern about Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court. In particular, I want to discuss his troubling record on the environment and what that means for people’s health.
Judge Kavanaugh has demonstrated that he simply doesn’t believe that existing law allows new environmental threats to be addressed via any sort of regulation.
I am talking about an existing law that was designed to protect human health and our environment.
When you take a look at Judge Kavanaugh’s record, one thing becomes abundantly clear: Judge Kavanaugh has tried to weaken Clean Air Act protections, even though the Act controls things like smog, and carbon monoxide. Those pollutants contribute to asthma, heart attacks, and even premature death — they put our health at risk.
So in a 2012 case, Judge Kavanaugh authored an opinion that found the EPA had exceeded its authority when the agency told upwind states to literally stop blowing smoke onto their downwind neighbors.
Luckily, the Supreme Court was more sensible than Judge Kavanaugh. Justices Kennedy and Roberts joined four others in a 6–2 decision to overturn Judge Kavanaugh’s lower court ruling. Writing for the majority, Justice Ginsburg found that the EPA has the power to act to protect people’s health.
I agree with the Supreme Court’s 2012 decision — and so do most Americans. An April 2018 poll found that 75% of Americans support even stricter limits on smog.
What Judge Kavanaugh particularly doesn’t like is that the Clean Air Act specifically gives the Environmental Protection Agency the right — the duty even — to limit new pollutants that threaten people’s health.
He has objected to using the law to establish new programs to reduce mercury — a potent toxin that harms developing brains — and greenhouse gases.
In 2014, Judge Kavanaugh lashed out at tough standards for mercury, which has been found to harm children’s development.
Judge Kavanaugh’s narrow view of the Clean Air Act could be extremely harmful to government efforts to address climate change by regulating greenhouse gases. Although the Act does not mention greenhouse gases by name, the Supreme Court has held that the EPA does have the power to regulate them.
In fact, the Court held that the Act requires the EPA to address any air pollutants that are found to endanger human health. But Judge Kavanaugh still seems to have a problem with adding new pollutants to the list.
Now, Judge Kavanaugh claims to believe what virtually every scientist tells us: that manmade climate change is real and is an enormous threat to our planet and our health.
But merely accepting climate science is too low a bar. Because even if Judge Kavanaugh believes in the urgent challenge of climate change, he doesn’t seem to believe that there is an urgent need to address it — and his record demonstrates this.
Over the next few decades, the Supreme Court will many opportunities to weigh in on how our government can work to protect our environment, particularly regarding climate change.
And the stakes are high: Scientists tell us that in order to avoid dangerous global warming, we must reduce our carbon dioxide emissions to zero sometime between 2050 and 2065. But it is 2018, and global carbon emissions are still increasing.
At the same time, President Trump is attempting to backpedal on every commitment our country has made towards fighting global warming. He is pulling us out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He is pulling back the Clean Power Plan. He is looking for ways to force utilities to keep expensive coal plants online, a move that would cost Americans billions of dollars in increased electricity bills.
All of these moves will hurt the environment and harm the health of the American people, and in each case, Judge Kavanaugh’s record shows that he is likely to act as nothing but an enabler.
My state of Minnesota is already seeing the costs of climate change. The rains in Minnesota are growing more intense, leading to increased damage from flash floods. As our winters grow milder and our summers warmer, plant and human diseases are spreading. Many scientists predict that the forests in my state will rapidly retreat, leaving Minnesota looking like Kansas by the end of the century.
But it does not have to be all bad news. A rapid transition to emissions-free energy sources is necessary to avoid the worst effects of climate change. It also will bring a tremendous economic opportunity to our country. We just need to rise to the challenge. In Minnesota, wind and solar and biofuels are already potent drivers of job growth.
If Judge Kavanaugh succeeds in overturning the federal obligation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the clean energy transition in our country will certainly slow. We will lose the competitive advantage to China and other economic rivals in the race to develop new green sources of energy.
Right now, we have a President who pushes coal and fossil fuels which, unless their carbon dioxide emissions are captured, must become the energy sources of the past. President Trump’s energy policy is backward looking and puts our economic competiveness at risk. But Presidents only serve for a term or two.
Which brings us back again to Judge Kavanaugh. Hopefully, we will be able to recover from the backward environmental policies of the Trump administration. But, Supreme Court Justices serve for life. So we can’t afford a Justice who is hostile to our environment and to human health. We can’t afford a Justice who rejects action to fight climate change. We just don’t have the time.