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Tuesday, June 02, 2009

An Energy Smart Senator Speaks Up

This is a guest post from A. Siegel who regularly writes excellent climate and energy analysis and commentary at Get Energy Smart Now! and DailyKos

Senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) came to the podium during today’s luncheon session at America’s Future NOW! focused on energy. He opened, reinforcing core points from his 2008 campaign:

If I’d been here a year ago, I would have talked to you about three things: The need to transform our energy economy, create jobs, and tackle global warming. … About the third, during the campaign, I spoke about it every single night. People asked me why, as it was 21st on people’s concerns. I responded: it should be first on everyone’s agenda and the only way it will be is if we talk about it.

Senator Merkley speaks, today and elsewhere, knowledgeably and forcefully about Global Warming, providing a litany of items that should be part of the agenda moving ahead. Amid these items and opportunity, Senator Merkley made some key points. But, he provided a straightforward shorthand of what must happen.

If I am going to simplify the issue, we have to quit taking geologic carbon and turning it into atmospheric carbon.

Right now, Senator Merkley is looking to the developments in the House with the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act. And, evidently, he isn’t very pleased by what we see. He stated that the bill must have a strong Renewable Electricity Standard (RES), a 25% by 2025 “You’re probably all aware that we don’t have that in the current bill.” [Editor's note: nope!]

In the past, people have described the Senate as the place where a good House bill goes to die. … We need to change that. We need to reestablish that the Senate is the place where an okay bill goes to get vastly improved.

Senator Merkley also emphasized that “We need a polluter’s pay strategy … we need a price to pay if you’re putting carbon dioxide in the air. Even more, we need an incentive to reduce putting carbon in the air.”

Clearly Senator Merkley is concerned, seriously concerned.

“The number that sticks in my mind is that all the problems that we are seeing around the globe come from less than a degree of warming. … If we don’t get our act together, in 50 years we could have five degrees of warming and that would be catastrophic.”

Senator Merkley sees real potential for change for the better, but fears that we won’t seize the opportunity.

"There is the possibility that we will end up with a framework that is ineffective, that has offsets, that doesn’t have a firm cap. … Or, we could end up with something that could really transform our use of energy. Obviously, we’re going to have to work real hard to get from the former to the latter."

Do Senator Merkley’s comments presage a fight to come that could result in improving the ACES Act when it comes to the Senate?

We can hope …

And, we can help by Speaking 16 times louder

Here is the entire session.

New Energy for America at America's Future Now! from AmericasFuture on Vimeo.

Forging a strategy that brings the ideal of green energy and green-collar jobs into political and practical reality is the focus of a luncheon panel discussion with Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore.; Kate Gordon, co-director of the Apollo Alliance; Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club; Mark Ayers, president of the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO, and Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins, chief executive officer of Green For All.

New Energy for America at America’s Future Now! from AmericasFuture on Vimeo.

Note: Listening to today’s speech reminded me why I supported Energy Smart Jeff. [Editor's note: me as well! Proud to have Senator Merkley representing my old home state.]


If you're interested in the full transcript of remarks from Senator Merkley, see below:

Senator Merkley’s Speech – New Energy for America at America’s Future Now!
Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Kate, thank you so much. It is a delight to be here.

If this is a year ago, I’d be talking to you about how we need to transform our energy economy to create jobs and to tackle global warning, and that that is why you should support me in my campaign.

Well, you all in the progressive community responded to that and supported me and supported so much others and helped create the possibility , the opportunity to open the door to an incredible year that we desperately need here in the United states of America. We need a President, and we need a Senate that can work in partnership with that President to create incredible transformational change.

And there’s a number of incredible things that have happened so far this year which have been great, such as the wilderness bill, children’s health care, pay equity, credit cards, a series of financial bridges for our working families. But the big battles of transforming Wall Street, creating affordable healthcare for every single American, and certainly the goal of transforming our energy economy and leading in global warming, these are the battles of the next five months, and your role as the progressive community is going to be critical if we are going to emerge from this year with significant changes in each of these areas.

I’m so delighted to be here to talk about the third. During the campaign, I talked about this every single night, and people would say, “Jeff, surveys show that global warming is 21st on the list of voter concerns. Why are you talking about it every single night?” I would say, first, it’s a major reason I’m running for the US Senate. And second of all, it should be first on everyone’s list, and it’s only going to get there if we talk about it.

So now we’re en route here, and there are three fundamental pieces or goals that should be a part of this energy transformation. One is ending dependence on foreign oil and national security that flows from that. The second is creating jobs, and we’re going to create a lot more jobs if we’re not spending two billion dollars a day on foreign oil and we’re spending that money here on clean energy in the United States of America. And the third, is to tackle global warming.

I know I’m talking to folks, to all of you, and you know a lot about this, but the number that is just anchored in my heart and soul is that everything we’ve seen in the world is a result of a one degree temperature change, or even less than a one degree temperature change. The retreating glaciers, the thinner ice sheets, the process of changing currents, changing weather patterns, moving insect populations, all of this, less than one degree. But if we don’t act successful now, and if we stay on this path we are on as a planet, then fifty years from now, so when a small child now is my age, I’m fifty-two, we will see a world of probably a five degree or more temperature increase. And that is catastrophic, catastrophic for our ecosystems, and catastrophic for our human civilization and it is a moral issue that we do not let this happen.

If I was to simplify a complicated issue, we have to stop taking geologic carbon and turning it into atmospheric carbon dioxide. Plenty of other pieces of the puzzle, but that is at the heart of it.

And so, among the ways we can take this on, certainly energy efficiency. Buildings - 2.2 tons of CO2 per year in North America, office buildings and residences. We can vastly increase the efficiency of the use of energy and decrease carbon dioxide produced through buildings and their consumption of electricity, which in turn is consumption of many fuel sources, carbon fuel sources.

Transportation - huge opportunity to make transportation more efficient. What would happen if, ten years from now, every car manufactured in the United States of America went its first 30 miles on electricity and had regenerative braking? Well, crudely, 80% reduction in carbon dioxide. And that’s a far more, far more vigorous effort than anything on the tailpipe issue. The modest increases in miles per gallon that we’re talking about fleet standards, that’s this big an issue. We could make a much, much larger gain through a transformation in terms of the types of propulsion that we’re using.

Next, we can bypass carbon altogether. And that is, of course, where wind, solar and wave come in. In cases where we can’t bypass carbon altogether, we can pull our carbon from a recycled process, in which we are looking to pull carbon out of the air, and when I said this in the past one person spoke up and said, “Jeff, wouldn’t it be great if we had a mechanical device or a device that would pull carbon dioxide out of the air?” Well, the great news is, we do. It’s called a tree, and we need to use those trees. We need to end deforestation and we need to be involved massively in reforestation. And in some cases we are able to take and have progressive thinning policies that are really win-win.

We have forests burning down across my home state of Oregon, which just puts everything right back into the air. But through thinning that produces lower fire risk, much lower fire risk, much lower disease risk, proceeds to leave medium age trees in places that are absorbing more carbon dioxide, and use the biomass, then there is a possibility of a real win-win there.

And then certainly, when we can’t do those mechanisms, and we’re burning carbon, capturing the carbon before it goes into the air. Now this is an area that requires a lot of research. Will it really work to sequester carbon geologically in the earth? I don’t know, jury’s out on that, but it’s worth research. Is it possible to capture carbon dioxide that’s going up the flu stack and trap it and put it into concrete? Well, there’s a firm in California that thinks the answer is yes, and they’re looking for a large scale demonstration. (Picks up piece of rock with plaque) I passed on a piece of their concrete, so this is one form of carbon sequestration, which is an interesting idea to pursue.

So those are kind of the set of issues that help frame the clean energy and jobs bill that we’re working on right now in the Senate. This bill has to have a long term commitment to the purchase of renewable non-carbon energy. And that’s why the renewable energy standard is so important. As Speaker of the house in Oregon two years ago, we established the most aggressive standard in the nation, a 25% by 2025 not including existing hydropower, and we need a 25, 2025 standard here in the United States as a whole, don’t you think?

And you are probably all aware, we don’t have that in the current draft on the House side. In the past, people have described the Senate as the place where good House bills go to die, I’m hoping that when we go through this process of working on this clean energy and jobs bill, we’ll reestablish the Senate as the place where an ok bill comes to be vastly improved in the US Senate.

Another standard that would help to drive things would be to really have an energy efficiency standard, a 15% improvement by 2020. One of the ways and one of the bills that I’m going to be introducing to tackle this is to help people with the upfront costs. When the savings outweigh the loan payments, the barrier is really that people don’t have the upfront cash. So if we have a revolving, low-interest fund in which people can see the payments on their electric bill but the savings are greater than the payments, much more likely people are going to buy those energy efficient windows, et, etc. And we want to do that as soon as possible, and increase as much investment in that area as possible.

We need a 21st century transportation system, and certainly each piece has its place. Certainly, light rail, certainly, high speed rail to replace a lot of the coastal traffic north and south on both coasts, east and west. Certainly, streetcars, and I’ve got to mention this because if anyone’s from Arizona, from Tucson, thank you very much, they have just agreed to purchase 7 streetcars from an Oregon company that is the first manufacturer of streetcars here in the United States in a generation.

And I’ve already mentioned advanced technology in transportation in cars, regenerative braking, going to electricity, of course that electricity in renewable, non carbon forms. And, what about this: What if all of our transportation project were measured, and a key part of the decision matrix for federal funding was the global warming impact? We don’t have that kind of index for federal transportation projects. I raised that question today with the Assistant Secretary for Highways, and he seemed very interested, so let’s pursue it.

And then we need a polluters pay strategy. We need a price to pay if you’re putting carbon dioxide or methane into the air, and more importantly we need an incentive to stop putting it into the air, because if you are willing to reduce those emissions then you reduce your costs.
And of course, that is a key piece of this clean energy and jobs bill, and a lot of wrinkles to be worked out yet, to make it real. And I think there is going to be the possibility that we end up with a framework that is ineffective, that has offsets, it isn’t a firm cap, the offsets aren’t real, the subsidies don’t design to suit change, or we’re going to end up with something that can really transform our use of energy and obviously we’re going to have to work really hard to get from the prior to the latter.

And finally, research, research, research. We simply need to recognize that we don’t have all the answers, and that some pathways are going to be a mistake. Corn ethanol, for example, and now we’ve committed huge national resources in this area, and it’s counterproductive. And it’s very hard to stop going down a path once that firm channel has been carved. So, we need to really study and keep working on a lot of different ideas to how we tackle this.

This revolution in energy is under way in Oregon. Last week I was at the Oregon Institute of Technology, which has just drug a super deep well, a geothermal well, its goal is to become the first campus that is completely supported, not just heating, but all electricity coming from geothermal, the first energy neutral campus.

I met with group on wave energy, the Oregon Power Technology Group, and they are working to become the first commercial wave energy project, huge potential. And they are doing such a good job right now in working with the coastal communities, so it is a win-win for those communities and not something that displaces fishing or crabbing.

Biomass, I’ve talked about a little bit, the use of sustainable thinning and wind cycle, and all of this, and I’m going to wrap it up here because I saw the card, is that one minute now?

Alright well, here’s what is comes down to: The economy and the environment are not at war. These are twins joined at the hip, each one is going to depend on the other, if we’re going to transform our economy in the world and create far more jobs, then we need and energy revolution, and certainly, if we’re going to succeed in driving an energy revolution then it has to generate jobs. So, these are partners, and we need to make sure as we go forward, that we make them work very well together. I’ll close simply by saying, that you all, the progressive community, created the opportunity for us, to transform our energy economy, now we need to work with you, we need your all’s help to seize this opportunity and actually deliver it here and make 2009 an extraordinary turning point for America in the world. Thank you very, very much.

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