Reid’s remarks focused on the effect of global warming on public lands
October 11, 2007
Las Vegas, NV – Today, U.S. Senator Harry Reid of Nevada participated in a field hearing of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests, chaired by Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon. The hearing focused on major environmental threats to the Great Basin, including the effects of global warming, drought, and wildfires.
“Wildfire, invasive species, and drought are wreaking havoc on the Great Basin’s environment,” said Reid. “But the underlying problem is global warming; it is making all of these things much worse in Nevada and all across the West. I applaud Senator Wyden's use of the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests to focus attention on these crucial matters, and look forward to working with him toward solutions that will better protect our communities and our natural resources.”
Witnesses before the Senate Subcommittee included:
The hearing was held at the UNLV William Boyd School of Law’s Moot Court Facility.
Reid’s remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below.
Statement of Senator Harry Reid
Before the Public Lands and Forests Subcommittee on the greatest environmental threats to the Great Basin in the 21st Century
Thank you Chairman Wyden for making the trip to Las Vegas to hold this hearing, especially when your wife is so close to her due date. I am glad this hearing is taking place here. Nevada contains most of the Great Basin, though we are happy to share with the great state of Oregon.
As you indicated in your opening remarks, we are here today to shed light on the most important environmental threats to the Great Basin. We all know that wildfire, invasive species, cheatgrass, water shortages, and drought impact Nevadans on a daily basis. They threaten our livelihoods, our economy, and the beauty of the Nevada landscape.
While we must aggressively deal with each of these specific challenges, we must also address the underlying causes of these problems if we are to protect the Great Basin’s fragile ecosystem and its natural resources for today's population but also for our children. But there is simply no way we can talk about threats to the Great Basin in the 21st century without discussing the climate changes that are occurring and making all of these problems worse.
Climate change poses the gravest of threats to our environment and way of life. The testimony we will hear today indicates we are already experiencing severe impacts from climate change throughout the Great Basin. From the Sierra Nevada mountains to the Mojave desert and the range and grasslands in between, the Basin is already changing dramatically. Warmer temperatures mean an even drier climate, more invasive species, and bigger wildfires.
I am not alone in my understanding that climate change is responsible for the greatest threats facing the Great Basin’s ecosystem today. Average spring and summer temperatures in the West have been steadily rising over the last 50 years – and the scientific models used by the International Panel on Climate Change project that summer temperatures in the West could increase by 3.6 to 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the middle of this century.
This warming will significantly reduce precipitation in all of the southwestern states, a region that is already under tremendous water stress. Natural cycles between wet and dry conditions will become more intense, which means flooding will be worse during wet periods, and droughts will be longer and more severe during dry periods.
The rivers, lakes, and wetlands of the Great Basin and the fish, bird, and plant species that depend on those water resources will be devastated, or will simply disappear in the not too distant future. This is especially troubling given the critical dependence of Nevada's growing population on rivers fed by declining mountain snowpack.
At the junction between the Great Basin and the Mojave Desert, drought is causing invasive annual grassland plants – mostly cheatgrass – to encroach on desert plants. In other areas of the Basin, tree die-offs from drought and high temperatures are causing woodlands to be overtaken by grasslands.
Invasive plants like cheatgrass thrive in hotter, drier conditions. They invade and transform sparsely vegetated landscape into dense carpets of fuel waiting for fire. After years of devastating wildfires, it is well known that the combination of cheatgrass with fire is drastically changing the Basin’s ecosystems.
Since the early 1980s, large western wildfires have increased 500 percent, and burned 760 percent more land on average. Millions of acres of Nevada have burned in recent years, displacing whole communities, threatening lives and livelihoods, and causing environmental havoc. But all signs seem to point toward this terrible trend getting worse over time as temperatures continue to rise.
The Great Basin is too important for us to let it become a desolate dustbowl. We should be doing everything we can right now to preserve this magnificent region for our children and grandchildren.
That means making major changes today in the way that we, as a society, use energy and water, build communities, and so on. Not tomorrow but today. We can adapt to all of these terrible things that are happening or getting worse because of global warming, but that will become increasingly expensive and really degrade our quality of life. Already, people in the North have to plan events and travel around the possibility of catastrophic wildfires.
We really need to attack the primary cause of global warming – the greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. We have got to stop those emissions as soon as humanly possible. I think we have a moral obligation to current and future generations to do that, and for Nevada I think that means switching over to renewable energy.
Most people in the audience probably already know about my opposition to the coal plants proposed for eastern Nevada. I won't go into a long speech about that, because those plants are not the subject of today's hearing.
But, after reading today's testimony in preparing for this hearing, I don't know how anyone could possibly conclude that burning dirty, polluting coal using old-fashioned technology is a good investment. Not when Nevada and the nation are on the brink of a renewable energy technology revolution – in solar, wind, geothermal, and biofuels energy production.
It is in our power right now to make the shift to a cleaner, brighter and smarter energy future. That's where Nevada needs to go and to lead the nation. Time is not on our side.
We must do the right things right now, not when a bureaucrat decides that the technology is economically feasible. We have the ability and we have the resources to make it economically feasible. Now is the time.
Mr. Chairman, I am glad that this hearing will explore and document the threats to the Great Basin. It is critical that the people who live and prosper here fully grasp these threats because they are transforming the world around us in very costly and dangerous ways. I look forward to hearing from our witnesses.
RenoBruce R. Thompson
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