U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., spoke to Iowa lawmakers and residents on the importance of keeping climate change on the political agenda now and through the 2016 presidential election.

Alison Sullivan, TIMES BUREAU

DES MOINES — Iowans can play a significant role in making climate change a top political priority, a Rhode Island senator and vocal activist on climate change said Tuesday.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., said Iowa will become the “political epicenter” with its first-in-the-nation caucuses leading up to the 2016 presidential election, and he called on Iowans to make candidates talk about the issue.

“I want to work with you to make sure Iowa is sending a strong message to every single presidential candidate that shows their face here: If you’re going to be credible in Iowa, you’ve got to be credible on climate change,” said Whitehouse, who received a round of applause from the more than 100 lawmakers and Iowans in attendance at his Statehouse discussion.

Whitehouse, chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee, has remained vocal on the effects of a warming climate. Last week, he spearheaded a 15-hour overnight discussion on climate change in the U.S. Senate.

He told members of the media Tuesday he would like to see a federal climate bill in 2015 and efforts in Iowa can help lay the groundwork. He said he would like to see the bill put a price on carbon to hold polluters accountable for excessive emissions.

“This is a fight that we have to have and we have to win,” Whitehouse said.

Whitehouse told members of the media that fight includes knocking down what he calls the “propaganda effort” by some energy companies that contend climate change isn’t a pressing issue.

A recent Gallup poll showed many Americans aren’t thinking about the issue either. Twenty-four percent of Americans said they were greatly concerned about climate change. The poll also revealed the political divide, with 36 percent of Democrats and 10 percent of Republicans who said they worry about climate change.

Whitehouse said climate change is an unquestionable fact and shared stories of rising ocean levels and fishermen in Rhode Island who are seeing the effects of carbon pollution. He said larger companies and organizations, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Apple, are acknowledging climate change and need to work together to help drive a unified message to the public.

The Tuesday morning talk was part of Whitehouse’s three-day stop in the Midwest to speak on climate change. Whitehouse is scheduled to visit BioProcess Algae this morning in Shenandoah with a meet-and-greet at The Depot Restaurant in the afternoon.

State Sen. Rob Hogg, D-Cedar Rapids, hosted Whitehouse’s visit and said it is a sign the discussion on climate change needs to continue in Iowa.

“I think that says something, and I think Iowans are ready for climate action. I think the momentum’s building, and you’re helping to do that,” Hogg, who has authored a book on the subject, told the audience.