Climate Champion Sen. Whitehouse Discusses Climate Change with TN Advocates

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (left) speaking with environmental advocates during his visit to Tennessee.

Last weekend, Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) visited SACE’s Knoxville office to sit down with clean energy and environmental advocates from Tennessee to discuss work done to combat climate change in the state. Representatives from SACE, Sierra Club, Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light, Statewide Organizing for Community eMpowerment, Alliance to Save Energy and TenneSEIA were in the room as Sen. Whitehouse was briefed on TN’s air quality, past and future climate change impacts in the state and the amount of solar, wind and energy efficiency resources used by TN residents.

Sen. Whitehouse, a long time champion for the environment, has delivered weekly “Time to Wake Up” speeches on the Senate floor for the past three years, calling for action to address climate change. He is the co-founder and co-chair of the Bicameral Task Force on Climate Change, along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA). The task force, created in 2013, is dedicated to “focusing Congressional and public attention on climate change and developing effective policy responses, and will be open to all other Members of Congress interested in collaborating on this issue.”

In March 2015, Sen. Whitehouse, along with Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), sponsored an amendment to the Senate’s budget proposal to promote national security, economic growth, and public health by prioritizing efforts to address climate change. Additionally, Sen. Whitehouse introduced the American Opportunity Carbon Free Act in June 2015, which would establish an economy-wide fee on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

During the meeting, advocates spoke with Sen. Whitehouse about air quality concerns, climate change impacts and the barriers to increased development of renewable energy resources in our state as well as how to help communities formerly dependent on the coal industry transition into a clean energy economy. Thanks to increased coal retirements by the Tennessee Valley Authority, the air in Tennessee is far better than it was 10-20 years ago. A few air quality problem areas still exist, mostly concentrated in East Tennessee and in and around Memphis. With the upcoming new ozone standards, as many as 25% of the counties in TN could violate ozone standards, depending on which new ozone standard is enacted.

Current TN Counties in Violation of Either Ozone or Particulate Matter Standards (SACE map made using EPA data).

Sen. Whitehouse also heard from advocates about the threat climate change poses to the state. Many areas in Tennessee face a greater risk of severe flooding due to increased precipitation caused by climate change. The magnitude of the potential economic impact associated with flooding is evidenced in recent events, including 2010 floods that caused $1 billion in damage in Nashville. Additionally, TN’s $21.7 billion timber industry, which employs around 180,000 Tennesseans, will be impacted by increased droughts, wildfires and changes in the composition of the forest that could mean some trees flourish at the expense of others.

From left to right: Jennifer Alldredge (Alliance to Save Energy), Adam Hughes (SOCM), Anne League (SOCM Executive Director), Jonathan Levenshus (Sierra Club), Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Angela Garrone (SACE), Drocella Mugorewera (SOCM), Stephen Smith (SACE Executive Director), Taylor Allred (SACE)

Tennessee’s hunters, and the state’s $500 million hunting industry, will also be affected by climate change. Tennessee’s wetlands act as both a natural water filtering system and as a habitat for game animals, such as duck, geese and trout. Predicted declines in Tennessean wildlife could cost the state’s hunting industry at least $80 million in lost revenue.

TVA has acknowledged that climate change, coupled with human adaptation to rising temperatures, will influence the demand for and supply of water. These changes may affect hydropower generation, thermoelectric cooling, reservoir‐based recreation, navigation, municipal and industrial uses, and environmental flows.

At the end of the meeting, Sen. Whitehouse shared his thoughts with SACE Executive Director Dr. Stephen Smith about why acting on climate change is critically important.

The groups were honored to meet with Sen. Whitehouse and discuss how we can all work together to combat climate change. We continue to look forward to Sen. Whitehouse’s ongoing leadership in the Senate as a true champion for the environment.

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