December 18, 2020

Brown: Combatting Climate Change an Opportunity to Create a Sustainable Economy that Makes People’s Lives Better

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) – ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs today delivered the following remarks at the Center For American Progress (CAP) event called, “The Financial System & Climate Change: A Regulatory Imperative.”

Sen. Brown’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, follow:

Thank you, Marilyn Waite, CAP for hosting, Senator Schatz, John Podesta, Governor Brainard, and all the panelists for your leadership on these issues

Americans know that climate change is real, they see it hurting their lives right now, and they’re demanding we deliver results.

They’ve endured four years of a president that sets government up to fail. We’ve seen it on pretty much everything where we need federal leadership, and particularly on climate change. Trump’s appointees wouldn’t even let career scientists use the words “climate change,” let alone do anything about it.

It’s one of the reasons why Joe Biden won a commanding, nearly 7 million vote victory. 80 million Americans voted for the candidate who made taking on climate change central to his campaign.

The days of Republicans scaring too many of our allies out of talking about this are over. Joe Biden was very clear that it was going to be one of his top priorities as president – and he won in Michigan, he won in Pennsylvania, he won in Wisconsin.

In 2018, I stood on a debate stage in Ohio and said that climate change is one of the defining moral issues of our time, and I won by nearly 7 points in a state Donald Trump won twice. 

Ohioans are experiencing the effects of climate change today – people in my state see toxic algal blooms on Lake Erie getting worse, threatening their drinking water. Farmers are dealing with even more uncertain growing seasons.

The politics of this are changing – and they’re going to change even faster if we can show people that there’s a real opportunity here to make their lives better.

Big oil and big corporations have spent billions of dollars trying to convince people that we have to choose between investment that grows the economy, and preserving the planet for our grandchildren.

They want people to think climate change either isn’t real, or is an unsolvable problem – instead of a huge opportunity.

As a result, we’ve had a failure of imagination.

All Trump and the Republican Party have done is sell workers a bunch of empty promises that coal mines and long-shuttered plants would reopen, instead of treating them with respect and honesty. They’ve let people’s hard-earned savings be invested in shrinking industries, without their knowledge. The United States has allowed China to take the lead on clean energy manufacturing.

We have to change that, starting on January 20th. And we don’t need Mitch McConnell’s blessing to do it.

There’s a lot the Biden Administration will be able to do on its own, particularly in the financial space.

We have to ensure that banks and insurance companies are factoring the catastrophic risks of climate change in their investments and on their balance sheets—not just cynically passing the risk on to their customers, shareholders, and, ultimately, taxpayers.

If people’s pensions and their 401K’s are invested in fossil assets whose value is shrinking, instead of growing industries that will create jobs in their communities and a better return on their investment, they need to know about it.

As you heard from Governor Brainard, the Fed is already looking at all the ways we must factor climate change into our economic assessment.

States are doing this too. As we heard from Commissioner Behnam and Commissioner Lee, some at the CTFC and the SEC recognize the urgency of taking action, and the other regulators must get on board, too.

To make real progress, we also are going to have to take on corporate power.

We’ve watched for years as Wall Street and the biggest companies fight Congress and agency action on climate change. Their CEOs can make lots of money in the short term by endangering our planet in the long term.

And the boards that are supposed to be holding bank executives accountable all too often have members with deep ties to the biggest greenhouse polluters.

Financial regulators need to do more than prod Wall Street to protect itself from climate risks.

Breaking up the biggest banks and limiting the risky activities they can invest in would clear the way for Congress and agencies to take bolder action. And it would make it easier to stop Wall Street from funding industries that fuel climate change and put all of their other assets at risk.

This is going to take an all-of-government approach.

It’s about housing policy and transit policy and financial policy. Maybe more than most, you know that fundamentally, fighting climate change isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s an economic one. And I don’t just mean economic in the sense of sterile statistics about risk calculations.

It’s about communities, and how people live and work.

We aren’t going to build a durable political coalition for change if regulators in suits in D.C. or in Brussels ignore the people who make this country work.

I think everyone listening today takes climate risks seriously, and so do the people Joe Biden has appointed and will appoint, including the people he’s looking at to be our financial watchdogs.

One of the things I’m going to do from my role on the Banking and Housing Committee is to encourage those regulators to think about climate not only as a risk, but also as an opportunity – an opportunity to build a sustainable economy that actually makes people’s lives better, in every community.

It’s not enough to just think about the climate risks to companies’ balance sheets or stock prices – government has to take into account the risks to people’s livelihoods, the communities they live in, the food they eat, and the investments they’ve made for their retirements.

And we have to think about the political risk of our country becoming more divided if we allow fighting climate to come at the expense of entire communities.

We saw what happened with globalization and trade agreements, and how corporations were allowed to write rules that funneled all the benefits to a smaller and smaller sliver of the wealthy in our country.

We can’t allow the same thing to happen again.

I want the people in our financial agencies thinking about the steelworker in Middletown, and the worker on the coal barge on the Ohio River and the restaurant owner who’s worried their town’s fracking boom is about to bust.

We can’t just think about moving investment away from the technologies and fuels of yesterday – we have to sell people a positive vision of where we’re moving that investment too.

We can put tradespeople to work to make our homes more energy-efficient and bring down people’s energy costs. These are jobs that can’t be sent to China.

We can create hundreds of thousands of high-quality, domestic manufacturing jobs building electric cars and batteries and charging stations—not to mention the solar panels, wind turbines, and other parts of the renewable energy supply chain. 

We can replace our entire bus fleet with new zero-emission buses, all made here in America.

We can build better, faster public transportation that gets people to work faster and with less hassle.

And we can direct more investment to the kinds of communities that have been overlooked for decades by Washington and by Wall Street – whether that’s small towns in Appalachia or Black and brown communities.

I believe the Biden Administration is serious about marshalling all of our talent and resources and ingenuity, throughout the federal government and beyond, to do this—and that’s what it will take.

I’ve always refused the idea that you have to accept this false choice between good environmental policy and good-paying jobs.

We’ve proven that’s simply not true.

We’ve proven it in my state, where we have wind turbines made with American-made steel.

We’ve proven it in Toledo, where we have one of the biggest solar energy manufacturers in the country.

We’ve proven it in the auto industry, which is already making more fuel-efficient cars.

We can seize these opportunities instead of running from them, we can put Americans to work, and we can create a growing economy that lifts up all workers.