Environmental Law & Policy Center Benefit
Remarks as Prepared for Delivery
I want to thank Dan Levin for that generous introduction. Dan and his wife, Ambassador Fay Levin, are good friends. I am a big admirer of the Environmental Law & Policy Center and all it does to protect our natural treasures in Chicago and throughout the Midwest. I want to recognize the center’s chairman, Nancy Loeb. I also want to thank ELPC President Howard Learner. On every big environmental challenge we have faced for 20 years – from reducing the mercury in our air, to protecting Lake Michigan and the Chicago River from toxic dumping, to making Chicago the hub of America’s first high speed rail network, Howard Learner and ELPC have been there to help lead the charge. Thank you, Howard.
Several years ago I was driving through Lee County, headed toward Paw Paw, Illinois, when I came around a bend and saw an amazing sight: dozens of gigantic wind turbines generating enough energy to power 15,000 homes 100 miles away in Chicago. I knew right then that I was looking at Illinois’ future.
Margaret Hanley had that same thought the first time she saw a horizon full of wind turbines. Margaret is president of a steel fabrication company called A. Lewis & Sons Steel in Peoria. It was started in 1857 by a German immigrant named Adam Lucas and it is the oldest continuously operating steel fabricator in America. Their motto is: “We’re not the new kids on the block; we built the block.” They use only American-made steel.
Margaret’s grandfather worked at the plant. So did his son John, who eventually bought the company. Margaret – the 9th of 10 Hanley kids – always knew her future was in steel. She already had a degree in political science and an M.B.A. when she went back to school in 2002 for a third degree -- in construction engineering. In 2004, she started her career at Lucas & Sons. A year later, her dad handed over the reins and named Margaret president.
In the last six years, during the worst recession since the Great Depression, the company’s sales have more than quadrupled. Lucas & Sons employs 24 people today, most of them union iron workers. Margaret plans to hire 12 more workers next year. That’s where the wind turbines come in.
When Margaret Hanley looked at those wind turbines, she saw the future. She also strong steel beams. She knew that if Lucas & Sons could get the financing to purchase a sophisticated “six-axis robotic laser” her workers could produce steel beams four times faster, at a price that would make them competitive with companies in China and other nations. She asked her bank for a loan – but the bank said no. The company’s credit was good; the bank just wasn’t lending.
So Margaret did something she had never done before: She filled out a federal grant application. She applied for a grant through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act -- and it worked. Lucas & Sons was awarded a $350,000 grant, which they matched dollar-for-dollar, and bought the robotic laser.
Today, Peoria’s oldest business is ready to compete in one of the world’s newest and fastest growing industries: wind energy. I visited the company last week and was amazed. Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce a true Illinois and American success story, Margaret Hanley.
There are many more clean energy success stories in our state. As we know from ELPC’s fine report, more than 300 companies are part of the wind, solar and geothermal supply chains in Illinois. Together, they provide good jobs for more than 18,000 people.
The Chicago region – the Windy City – is home to more than 13 corporate headquarters of major wind power companies, including several multinational companies. Many of them are represented in this room. I’m here to thank you for having faith in Illinois and investing in our future.
Howard already explained so persuasively why clean energy is a good business investment. I won’t repeat everything he said, but I want to cite a few statistics. These are from a new report by the Brookings Institute. According to Brookings, there are already 2.7 million clean energy jobs in America today. Between 2003 and 2010 -- when other industries were cutting jobs and shipping them overseas – green industries added half-a-million new jobs in America. One-in-four clean economy jobs is in manufacturing. That’s important, because a strong manufacturing base is a key to a strong middle class. And clean energy jobs produce, on average, twice as many as exports as typical American jobs.
The bottom line: Investing in a clean economy means more and better jobs at better wages. And it can help solve the three major crises facing America today: a jobs crisis that has left 25 million Americans who need full-time work unable to find it; an energy crisis that undermines our economic and national security; and a climate crisis that could leave this planet uninhabitable if we don’t get serious about it soon.
So naturally, when it comes to the clean energy race, everyone in Congress agrees we need to be in it to win it, right?
Let me tell you a story. In 1956, when Adlai Stevenson was running for President, a woman told him: “You’ll have the vote of every thinking person in America.” Stevenson replied: “Thank you. But I need a majority.”
Well, you need a majority to get anything through the House of Representatives, too. And in the Senate, you need a super-majority – 60 votes– to pass anything controversial. I know, because that’s the main qualification for being Majority Whip: You have to be able to count to 60.
Sadly, in this Congress, winning the clean energy race and protecting the environment has become very controversial.
We’re seeing efforts to handcuff the EPA and prevent it from issuing new regulations … and efforts to gut the Clean Air and Clean Water acts – policies that both parties have agreed on for 40 years.
In July, House Republicans uses the debt crisis and the threat of default to try to push through the largest environmental cuts in 25 years.
This year has already set a record for most FEMA-declared disasters. When we tried last month to replenish FEMA’s depleted coffers -- to help disaster victims in Joplin and other places -- House Republicans insisted that Congress offset those disaster funds by cutting clean energy programs that create jobs and reduce the greenhouse gases that make more extreme weather more likely in the future! Eventually, they backed down. But they’re finished.
They want to prevent the EPA from adopting water ballast requirements that stop the intrusion of invasive species into the Great Lakes. The list goes on and on.
Why is this happening, you ask. Well, some people just can’t seem to think outside the old fossil-fuels box. As Tom Friedman says, they’re like people in the 1980s who were thinking about building a better electric typewriter when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were in their garages working on new ideas that would transform the world.
There’s also another reason. Sadly, some in this Congress have made a calculation that it is in their political interest to try to discredit and de-fund Washington’s support for clean energy because they see it as a way to hurt the President.
That’s the bad news. The good news is: We have a choice. Chicago is the city that made a river run backwards. America is the nation that led the Industrial Revolution and the high tech revolution. We can win the clean energy revolution, too.
Here are some ways Washington can help.
First, I know you’re concerned about the future of tax credits for clean energy investment and production. I served on the President’s bipartisan deficit reduction commission – better known as the Simpson Bowles Commission. We proposed a plan to cut the deficit by $4 trillion.
We also agreed that we need to reform and simplify the federal tax code to make America the best place in the world to start and run a business and create jobs. We said: Let’s eliminate all tax earmarks and loopholes and use part of the savings to reduce the deficit, and part to lower marginal interest rates for all individual and corporate taxpayers. It turns out, most individuals and businesses would pay lower taxes even with the elimination of tax credits and loopholes. And, we would make a significant start at reducing the deficit.
I think that is ultimately what we need to do. Until we get there, however, I strongly support continuing production and investment tax credits for clean energy. In China, India, Spain, the EU -- all of our competitors -- government is an active partner in the race to develop and commercialize clean energy. Even Saudi Arabia has begun investing seriously in renewable energy because it is concerned about its overdependence on oil for economic growth. The United States cannot be – cannot be -- the only major industrialized nation in which government does nothing to help businesses win the global clean energy race and the good jobs and other benefits that come with it.
As to for how to pay for clean energy tax credits: We can start by eliminating the multi-million-dollar tax giveaways to BP, Exxon Mobil and the other Big Oil companies that are sitting on tens of billions of dollars in profits.
Most deficit commission members also agreed that we can’t just cut our way out of this deficit or tax our way out. We have to think our way out. Instead of cutting federal spending indiscriminately, across the board, we should give priority to productive investments that will strength our economy for the long haul. These include education, infrastructure, efficient health care, high-value research and certainly, clean energy.
We need to adequately fund America’s research universities and our national energy laboratories, like Argonne. That’s where the breakthrough discoveries will come from.
And we need to continue to adequately fund clean energy grant programs -- like the DOE’s “State Energy Program” that helped A. Lucas & Sons position itself to compete in the wind energy market.
Last spring, during the first federal government shutdown showdown, House Republicans tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the State Energy Program. Now they want to cut funding for the program by half. That’s still the wrong way to go.
There’s one last point I want to make. Jim Hansen, NASA’s top climate climatologist, said recently – this is a quote: “It’s time for all of us to get Tea Party angry about what our political system has become and about the intergenerational injustice that is being perpetrated on young people.”
I understand his frustration – believe me. I’m sure you do, too. But I think there’s enough Tea Party-level rage in our country already. Instead of getting angrier, I think we need to be smarter in making the case for the clean energy economy. We need business leaders and entrepreneurs like you to say publicly that smart environmental regulations are good for business -- to help counter the claims that all environmental regulations are “job destroyers.” It wasn’t too many environmental regulations that crashed America’s economy, it was too few financial regulations.
We also need entrepreneurs and business leaders who benefit from government-funded research, loans and grants to tell your stories. Talk about the people who have good jobs today because you were willing to take risks and work hard and the government was there to help. People need to know that together, we can create good jobs, rebuild America’s middle class and save this planet.
When Adam Lucas came to America, he was a safemaker. A year after he opened his business in Peoria, the “Bessemer process” for making steel beams was invented. Adam Lucas seized on that new technology and the opportunities it offered, and the company he founded has been providing good jobs for the last 150 years.
Today, a new generation of American entrepreneurs is ready to lead the clean energy revolution and create jobs and industries that will benefit America for the next 150 years. I know they are up to this challenge. I want to continue to work with the Environmental Law & Policy Center, and all of you, to see that they succeed. With that, I’ll stop and try to answer any questions you might have.
Previous Article Next Article