Sen. Whitehouse: Majority Leader Reid happy with climate push

And he recently launched a bicameral climate task force with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Whitehouse, in the interview, reiterates calls for creating a cost to emit carbon, which could be done through a cap-and-trade system or a carbon tax.

But those ideas don't have anywhere near enough traction on Capitol Hill to advance. Indeed Reid, despite the "attaboy," has not brought climate legislation to the floor in over four years.

The cap-and-trade and energy plan that former Sens. John KerryJohn Forbes KerryJuan Williams: Trump's dangerous lies on Iran Pompeo: US tried, failed to achieve side deal with European allies Trump administration braces for big week ahead in foreign policy MORE (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) crafted, lacking votes, never made it to the floor in 2010.

Climate advocates, however, are also trying to create political space for what are expected to be new executive actions from President Obama during his second term.

Whitehouse also describes the common Senate ritual of making a speech to a largely empty chamber.

“One of the odd things about being a senator is you get used to giving speeches in a very lightly populated Senate chamber. But what you learn to appreciate is that even though there may be only a few colleagues in the room either waiting to speak or presiding or finishing up their remarks, the TV network [C-SPAN] is going to [broadcast it] to all the staffers who are watching and listening ... on the monitors in their offices,” he said in the interview with Inside Climate News.

“So although you don't actually see your audience in front of you, you have quite a big audience. And of course we try to push this out beyond the immediate Senate community to the media and environmental community and the scientific community,” Whitehouse said.