Tom Udall: We Need Clean Energy Jobs Now

Mr. President as I rise to give this maiden speech in our chamber, we all know that we are living in very difficult times. Our current economic crisis has only accelerated problems that have been growing for years. America's manufacturing sector was declining before this crisis. And when this crisis has passed, we will still need a blueprint for creating high-paying jobs and growing the middle class. Meanwhile, our energy policies pose a threat to the economic, environmental and national security of our nation and the world. I believe that these two problems—our economic stagnation and our energy irresponsibility—demand a common solution. And we must put Americans to work building the energy economy of the future. And we must do so now.

I often say that our energy policies have produced a perfect storm—a combination of three extraordinary challenges that collectively threaten our future. First, America's dependence on fossil fuels threatens our economy. As natural gas provides a growing share of America's electricity, the price of gas has more than tripled since 1995. And growing demand promises to make matters worse. Second, America's energy policies threaten our security. America has just three percent of the world's natural gas reserves, but we consume 25 percent of the world's supply. That increasingly means sending American dollars to Russia and Iran, two countries that sit on more than 43 percent of the world's gas reserves and two countries that have shown their willingness to use energy as an instrument of coercion. Finally, humans have managed to overwhelm the earth's carbon cycle. The balance that sustained life on earth for millennia has been radically altered.

In New Mexico, this means fewer farms and more forest fires, more thirst and less water, the end of a unique and treasured way of life. Some people say that the world's demand for fossil fuels has not yet begun to outstrip supply or that the climate is not changing that quickly. I look at it this way. We are driving towards a cliff. I don't want to spend a lot of time arguing about how far off the cliff is. I want to stop accelerating. So, what do we do? In the short-term we need to do it all. We need to drill responsibly for domestic energy. We should promote conservation. And nuclear power has to be part of the mix. But we also need reforms that prepare us for the future. When I was in the other body, I fought for, and we passed, a Renewable Electricity Standard, an RES. This plan would demand that large utilities generate a portion of their energy from renewable sources and conservation. Thanks in large part to my colleague who is on the floor today—the senior Senator from New Mexico, Senator Bingaman—the Senate has passed this proposal three times. Similar policies have succeeded at the state level. In fact, 28 states have renewable standards, including my home state of New Mexico.

But a national RES has never become the law of the land. It's time for Congress to make it so. There are many reasons to support this plan. To start, it's good for consumers. With a 20 percent standard, utility customers could save $31.8 billion dollars. It will strengthen rural communities and provide new income for farmers and ranchers. And this plan will make America safer. The billions of dollars it would generate are dollars that will stay in America and cannot be used to hold our foreign policy hostage. But most importantly, a national renewable standard will create hundreds of thousands of high paying jobs—jobs that cannot be outsourced. Study after study shows that shifting capital to renewable energy increases job creation. And not only will this plan stimulate job creation today; it will put us on a path towards dominance in the industries of the future. These benefits will come from the actions of private businesses, making the RES a distinctly American solution to a global problem.

And that is why it will succeed. As one writer has put it, the only thing stronger than Mother Nature is Father Profit. Because it works with the private sector, an RES is more than a government program. It is an appeal to the spirit of innovation. I know that we have enough of that innovative spirit to tackle any challenge we face. I see it in the people of New Mexico. I see it in the scientists chasing new ideas. In entrepreneurs betting their time and capital on the hope of a better world. In engineers searching blueprint sketches for the submerged outline of a revolution. My constituents are eager to tackle the problems that face our country. And I know yours are too. But these citizens have been poorly served by their government.

Just last month, a renewable energy company from my state was forced to lay off most of its workforce. After investing in a new technology, the company could not afford to begin manufacturing. As a result, the progress of their innovations has been delayed and the dreams of their workers have been deferred. It did not have to be this way. Countries that have done more to shape their energy markets have created driving green energy industries. With a population roughly a quarter as large as America's, Germany has more than twice as many workers developing wind energy technologies. Spain has almost five times as many workers in the solar thermal industry as America. And China has more than 300 times. Today, our markets do not accurately reflect price, the social cost of burning fossil fuels. As a result, the private sector is effectively being told to send American dollars overseas, to ignore the coming decline in fossil fuel supplies and to radically alter the world's climate. It is a credit to America's energy companies that so many of them have invested in alternative fuels and conservation.

But individual acts of responsibility cannot compensate for a market that encourages irresponsibility. If we're going to make the changes we need, conservation cannot be an act of personal virtue and renewable fuels cannot be luxury alternatives. An RES would structure the marketplace so that those decisions that are best for the American people are also the best for the bottom line. This approach will make the market a powerful force for progress, because government cannot tackle this problem alone. New Mexico contains two of America's preeminent national labs. We know that these public institutions have an incredible innovative capacity. But we also know that government needs private sector partners to achieve its goals. From 1970 to 1996, Los Alamos National Lab—the institution that harnessed the power of the atom, harnessed the power of the atom and launched America's national lab system—developed a technique for cleanly and efficiently using the earth's heat to generate energy.

Estimates indicated that the technique could eventually power the earth for hundreds of years. But without market incentives to encourage continued development, progress stagnated. Only recently have American businesses rediscovered the geothermal technologies this country pioneered. Because our markets don't appropriately value renewable energy, we lost more than a decade while the world raced ahead. America cannot afford to let another country become the world's green energy leader. Someday soon, green energy will no longer be an alternative; it will be the standard. The CEO of GE Energy recently testified before Congress that wind and solar energy are likely to be among the largest sources of new manufacturing jobs worldwide during the 21st Century. The question is whether these jobs will be in America. That’s what I want. And that’s what we need to do. America has always succeeded by being one step ahead. We mass-produced the car, and American manufacturing built the middle class. We sparked the IT revolution, and our high-tech industry fueled American prosperity for years.

Today, being one step ahead means developing the green energy economy of the future before anybody else does. The challenge is huge, but so is the payoff if we succeed: a stronger economy, a more secure future, and a chance to reclaim the mantle of world leadership—by the force of our example and the unmatched capacity of our people. It is clear that these are difficult times. I devoted this speech to a proposal I believe will allow us to meet these difficulties head on, and to emerge a safer, stronger, more prosperous nation. I believe the American people are ready for change and they're ready for the change that this plan represents. It is up to us to rise to the challenge. Should we do so—and I am confident we will—we will remember today as a time when America again turned a global threat into a national opportunity. We will remember the day when our government set free the power of American industry to tackle one of the world's toughest problems. And we will celebrate the time when American businesses and American workers rose up–and together we built a newer world…a clean energy world. I also want to thank today a number of my colleagues and friends that are here. My cousin, Mark Udall from the great state of Colorado is here, Senator Bingaman who I mentioned in my speech who has been a leader on these renewable technologies and has gotten this proposal that we talked about.

..that I talked about today has gotten it through the Senate three times. I see Jeanne Shaheen who's also in my class, Jeff Merkley, Debbie Stabenow, Sherrod Brown, Bob Casey, many members that are here and I'm grateful for that. So with that Mr. President I yield the floor..