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Electric Current Events: Middle East Revolutions and the Need to Revolutionize American Clean Energy

8:20 am in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

Pro-democratic movements in the Middle East are in the midst of their rendezvous with destiny, but America’s destiny can no longer be linked with the fates of dictators, military juntas, and theocratic regimes. We must develop energy independence; we must Make It In America.

America must develop a national energy plan that prioritizes the need to (1) Make It In America, (2) transition away from dirty fossil fuels, and (3) secure energy independence. The events unfolding in the Middle East – and subsequent spikes in fuel prices – demonstrate America’s need to transition away from unclean energy from an unstable part of the world.

We spend 16 percent of our defense budget – more than $100 billion – securing oil shipments in the Straits of Hormuz and elsewhere, and there is little doubt that American foreign policy has been perversely shaped over the years by the raw calculus of oil politics (see: U.S. policy in Iraq over decades). It’s long past time that we wean ourselves off of foreign dirty fossil fuels. Energy security is national security.

A comprehensive national clean energy plan, including solar, wind, geothermal, cellulosic ethanol, advanced biofuels, and the Integral Fast Reactor is necessary to break our dangerous addiction to oil and to keep America safe. We have the technology and resources to be completely energy independent, creating thousands of good American jobs and strengthening our global competitiveness.

In 2009, the United States received 8 percent of its total energy consumption from renewable sources of energy and 9 percent of its energy from nuclear power. Renewable sources of energy are anticipated to reach 17 percent of total energy consumption by 2035, but this will not provide the baseload power that is needed to meet our future energy demands.

According to a recent Pew study, between 1998 and 2007, clean energy jobs “from scientists and engineers to electricians, machinists and teachers” grew almost three times faster than jobs in the overall economy. An analysis by the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley suggests that transitioning to a 20 percent renewable portfolio standard by 2020, utilizing 40 percent biomass, 55 percent wind, and 5 percent solar, would create 188,018 jobs.

Clean energy is good for the environment, good for national security, and good for thousands of Americans who desire a rewarding career. That’s why I’ve authored Make It In America legislation that requires clean technology made with federal taxpayer dollars to be made in America. If we don’t Make It In America, we’ll buy it from a global competitor. China is now the world’s third largest wind power producer and the world’s fifteen largest photovoltaic solar power stations are in the European Union.

2011 has been electrifying year for millions of ‘small d’ democrats and people throughout the Middle East, but if we don’t act fast, we risk letting the 2010s be known as the decade the lights went out in America. For centuries, America has led the world on a long march toward freedom and democracy. Let’s reclaim our clean energy leadership and lead the world toward clean energy independence.

Congressman John Garamendi represents California’s 10th Congressional District. As a state legislator in the 1970s, he authored the first renewable energy tax credit in America.

My First Bill Protects West Coast from New Offshore Oil Drilling

1:45 pm in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

Exactly six months ago, I entered Congress promising to protect this great nation from threats foreign and domestic. Today I’m fulfilling that promise. A bill I introduced today would create a permanent ban on new offshore oil and natural gas drilling from platforms on the West Coast. We can’t change the past, but at least we can stop future exploration in federal waters near California, Oregon, and Washington.

Why now? For years, supporters of new offshore oil drilling have told us that platform drilling is clean and safe. The tragedy unfolding on the Gulf Coast proves them wrong. The potential devastation is immense to treasured wetlands, hundreds of miles of coastline, wildlife, and ocean-based industries like tourism and fishing. Many are already calling the Gulf Coast oil spill the worst natural resources disaster in U.S. history. While we can be saddened, we shouldn’t be surprised. The inevitable consequence of ‘drill, baby, drill’ is ‘spill, baby, spill’. Unless we block new offshore oil drilling, we will only expose our coastlines to even more disasters.

In the Gulf Coast, at least ten wildlife refuges and 40 percent of U.S. wetlands are likely to be impacted, potentially costing millions of dollars in coastal restoration. Tourism and fishing industries are severely threatened, and hundreds of species of wildlife could be impaired. Permanent closure of this oil spill is projected to take at least 90 days, and if the history of past oil spills is any indication, these projections have a habit of growing with time.

Our nation’s security demands that we move away from oil and spend our money on renewable green energy instead. Think how many solar panels and wind turbines could be installed with the millions spent on a sunken drilling rig and years of clean up.

We’re witnessing what offshore oil drilling reaps. Yes we get oil, but we also risk the destruction of natural preserves, the ruination of coastlines, and the disruption of ocean-based economies. Why would anyone want to open their coastline to the calamity we’re witnessing on the Gulf Coast?

My home state is familiar with this fight. In January 2009, as California’s Lieutenant Governor, I led the fight at the California State Lands Commission to block new drilling off the coast of Santa Barbara. It would have been the first new offshore drilling lease in California in more than four decades and would have sent a dangerous signal to Washington that California’s coast was for sale.

Governor Schwarzenegger attempted to bypass the State Lands Commission’s independent authority, and I’m glad to say that after a protracted battle, we succeeded in blocking his efforts. This week, he finally backed off on his push for new drilling, citing the disaster in the Gulf Coast. Like the Governor, it’s time we learned from our past mistakes and stopped new platform drilling.

The battle for California’s coast also provides us a lesson from history. For you see, a major oil spill in Santa Barbara more than four decades ago reawakened our country’s appreciation for environmental protection. Lisa Margonelli, the director of the New America Foundation’s energy initiative, explains in a New York Times op-ed:

"The history of American oil spills is the history of the environmental movement. The 1969 blowout of an oil platform off Santa Barbara, Calif., gave rise to Earth Day as well as President Richard Nixon’s National Environmental Policy Act, and led to a moratorium on new drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific Coasts. Twenty years later, the spill from the Exxon Valdez tanker near Alaska quashed the first Bush administration’s ambitions for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and ushered in the laws that made oil shippers liable for damage caused by their cargo."

When the consequences of offshore oil drilling are faint memories, many Americans tune out the warnings of the environmental community. Yet as the horror stories pile up, as the videos and photos circulate on television and online, public opinion can turn quickly. We now have an opportunity to bestow our precious coasts with renewed protections. Let’s not let the devastation on the Gulf Coast happen in vain. In the name of this tragedy, let’s commit our nation to a brighter, greener path. Let’s stop new platform oil drilling on the West Coast.

Students in California March Today, I Stand with Them

9:15 am in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

Students at public universities in California are planning a series of demonstrations across the state protesting tuition hikes today. While a few isolated incidents in recent weeks have provided fodder for some in the media to dismiss their concerns, the students’ cause is incredibly important. If we continue to yearly raise tuition in California far beyond inflation, we threaten to derail all that has enabled my home state to prosper in decades past.

It is no accident that the Golden State’s Golden Age of economic innovation coincided with the establishment of and continued investment in the best public university system in the world. Fifty years ago, forward-thinking policymakers declared that California would be a state where higher education was the birthright of every qualified resident. Since then, we’ve become the world’s great innovator in computers, biotechnology, space exploration, and clean technology.

Unfortunately, the vision that made California one of the largest and most diverse economies on the planet has fallen to the wayside in recent years, as Governor Schwarzenegger and state lawmakers have decided that it’s politically easier to balance state budgets on the backs of students.

The result? Student fees have more than doubled at the University of California and California State University systems over the past decade, and enrollment was reduced by more than 45,000 in the past two years. When you price students out of a college education, you don’t just harm the individual. You deny the state the future teachers, nurses, and engineers necessary to propel our economy forward.

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A Great First Step for Wall Street Reform

12:43 pm in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

Last Saturday, I hosted three town halls in my district and as you can imagine, the questions ran the gamut. But time and again, I heard from so many of my constituents about their troubles in this difficult economy. Whether it was recently laid off workers, students unsure if they can afford a 32% hike in their fees after five consecutive years of tuition hikes, laid off workers unable to collect unemployment insurance, employers who can’t acquire the capital they need to expand, or homeowners trying to save their properties from foreclosure, our people are hurting, and it’s our job in Washington to fix it.

We’re all now painfully aware that our financial sector was permitted to run amuck under the previous administration and our government failed to stop it. To address this problem, today I proudly cast my vote for H.R. 4173, the Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act. While I think more expansive reforms of the financial sector are necessary, this legislation is an important first-step that will go far in helping to protect consumers, investors, homeowners, and tenants.

Under this legislation, consumers will finally have a federal regulator with teeth ready to battle predatory financial firms. We will stop financial conglomerates from becoming ‘too big to fail’ and provide legal and financial assistance to homeowners and tenants trying to save their homes. For the first time in U.S. history, we will regulate the over-the-counter derivatives marketplace, where millions of contracts between large banks have gone unregulated for years. We also require most private equity and hedge fund advisors to register with the Securities and Exchange Commission and expand the SEC’s staff and anti-fraud capabilities. We also require full disclosure of financial firms’ compensation structures and give shareholders the opportunity to give an advisory vote on executive compensation practices. With millions of Americans unemployed, including tens of thousands in my district, we can’t afford further delay on this important package.

With my vote, I’m sending a simple message: no more. No more to abusive lending practices, no more to loopholes that allow billions of dollars between large firms to go unregulated, no more to a system that prioritizes short term profit in one sector over the long term health of an entire economy.

For eight years as California’s Insurance Commissioner, I regulated the largest financial industry in America: its insurance companies. Now I’m prepared to take this experience and use it to stop abusive practices in our banking industry. The games have to stop; it’s time we created an economy that focuses on the needs of Main Street, not just Wall Street.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) represents California’s 10th Congressional District. You can follow Congressman John Garamendi on his new Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Recovery: The Proof is in the Pudding at the Worksite

7:16 am in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

In my last post, I cited a New York Times story that indicated that most economists think the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is helping to create jobs and stimulate our economy. Earlier this week, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed the economists’ findings.

According to the CBO, in the third quarter of this year alone, 600 thousand to 1.6 million jobs were directly created or saved by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, reducing our country’s unemployment rate by 0.3 to 0.9 percent. This is an especially important finding for my home state of California, which at 12.3 percent, suffers from the third worst unemployment rate in the nation.

Indeed, it’s worth noting that the CBO report does not measure indirect job creation. Jobs created through most sub-contractors and vendors are not included in the report nor are the jobs created at local businesses when 1.6 million Americans have sufficient wages to put their money back into the economy.

They say all politics is local, and that may or may not be true, but it’s certainly the case that all jobs are local. When I talk to constituents, I hear from understandably frustrated people who think the stimulus has been ineffective. I understand that 1.6 million jobs created is just a statistic when you are still unemployed, when your family is still struggling, when your phone is ringing off the hook from relentless creditors, when you’re falling behind in your rent or mortgage payments.

Even for these individuals, the stimulus passed by President Obama and Congressional Democrats back in February has improved things. When 1.6 million more people are gainfully employed, the challenging job climate for those still unemployed is a little bit easier. When 1.6 million more people are able to put food on the table from their own wages, the reduced usage of government and non-profit assistance means more resources are available for families still struggling in this difficult economy. When half the stimulus package has yet to be distributed, many families are not yet aware that help is on the way.

Nevertheless, when 15.7 million Americans are unemployed, including well over 30,000 people in the 10th Congressional District, I know our work in Congress is far from done. Yesterday, I joined my Democratic colleagues on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to highlight the findings of a report by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) that identified 9,500 “ready-to-go” highway, bridge, transit, port, rail, and aviation projects worth more than $69 billion that would create hundreds of thousands of jobs if we funded them in Congress.

We know that in an economic downturn, governments are well advised to invest in their infrastructure, employing people in the present to lay down the building blocks for future economic growth. In California, AASHTO identified 120 projects worth more than $4 billion that, with federal approval, would get thousands of newly employed boots on the ground in 120 days or fewer.

Crumbling roads throughout my home state are delaying commutes, slowing down freight traffic, impeding the attractiveness of bus travel, and discouraging area residents from engaging in commerce. A more robust investment in our public transportation networks would also do much to reduce congestion, better integrate public transit, and help us reach our carbon emission goals. In the three town halls I will be hosting this Saturday in my district, I know the deteriorating status of our region’s transportation infrastructure will be a frequent topic of discussion from constituents.

Today, President Obama holds his jobs summit, and based on public reports, the importance of more investment in transportation will not go unnoticed. My Democratic colleagues in the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have alerted the President of our desire to move ahead with many of AASHTO’s recommendations. Working together, we will produce a number of bills in the coming months that will continue our important work rebuilding an economy left in shatters following eight years of neglect and misguided priorities.

While you may not agree with every bill passed by Congress or every decision made by the President, when I say that we take our responsibility as incubators of a better economy seriously, I hope you’ll take me at my word. If not, the proof is in the pudding of the lunches of the 600 thousand to 1.6 million people now employed because of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) represents California’s 10th Congressional District. You can follow Congressman John Garamendi on his new Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Because Recovery Works, 3.5 Million Americans to Work Too

4:58 pm in Uncategorized by Congressman John Garamendi

In the months following the end of George W. Bush’s disastrous term as President, my Congressional colleagues and President Barack Obama worked tirelessly to create an economic recovery plan that could begin the difficult process of creating jobs and rebuilding our economy. Had I been in Congress at the time, I would have gladly voted for the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and as a recent New York Times article by Jackie Calmes and Michael Cooper reveals, "the accumulation of hard data and real-life experience has allowed more dispassionate analysts to reach a consensus that the stimulus package, messy as it is, is working."

They continue: "The legislation, a variety of economists say, is helping an economy in free fall a year ago to grow again and shed fewer jobs than it otherwise would. Mr. Obama’s promise to "save or create" about 3.5 million jobs by the end of 2010 is roughly on track, though far more jobs are being saved than created, especially among states and cities using their money to avoid cutting teachers, police officers and other workers."

"It was worth doing — it’s made a difference," Nigel Gault, chief economist at IHS Global Insight, a financial forecasting and analysis group, explained in the article. "I don’t think it’s right to look at it by saying, ‘Well, the economy is still doing extremely badly, therefore the stimulus didn’t work.’ I’m afraid the answer is, yes, we did badly but we would have done even worse without the stimulus."

So despite the consternation of some pundits, it turns out the President was right. Stimulus relief worked, and Democrats in Congress keep working. Since I joined Congress earlier this month, my House colleagues and I have backed a number of bills that will strengthen small businesses and create more jobs.

For example, H.R. 3738 by Congressman Glenn Nye (D-Virginia) would offer $250 million in financing to help early-stage small businesses in technology sectors, and with loan returns, it’s self-financing. Another bill, H.R. 3014 by Congresswoman Kathleen Dahlkemper (D-Pennsylvania), would offer loan guarantees to small business health professionals to be used for the acquisition and installation of health information technology. Another good bill, H.R. 3737 by Congressman Brad Ellsworth (D-Indiana), would expand small business microloan eligibility and lending limits while lowering interest rates. When constituents ask me what I’ve done to help fix our economy at my three district town halls on December 5th, these are some of the bills I will highlight.

Like President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal Democrats before us, we’ve inherited a mess from a Republican administration, and we’re picking up the pieces to rebuild our economy, brick by brick, job by job, solar panel by solar panel. But if you listened to some of the pundits, you’d think President Obama and Congressional Democrats were responsible for our present economic downturn.

Some people seem to forget that President Bush turned President Bill Clinton’s $559 billion surplus into a $1.2 trillion deficit. Indeed, President Bush spent more taxpayer money than any of his six immediate predecessors, including President Lyndon B. Johnson. Under President Clinton, real discretionary spending increased by 0.1 percent. Under President Bush, real discretionary spending increased by 44 percent. To date, the Iraq War alone has cost the country more than $700 billion, and President Bush’s tax cuts for the wealthiest five percent of Americans cost more than $1.3 trillion.

The American people have made it clear that they prefer Democratic solutions to economic crisis. They want a proactive commitment to job creation, and they know that the federal government is able to provide some relief to local schools, job training programs, and senior centers devastated by state and local budget cuts.

Over the coming months, my colleagues and I will be back in Washington to try and bring some additional relief to American workers. There are plenty of good bills on the table that will improve the climate for small businesses, reinvest in jobs-creating infrastructure, provide incentives for research and the creation of green jobs, and offer targeted tax assistance for working and middle class Americans. We can’t afford to wait.

Congressman John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) represents California’s 10th Congressional District. You can follow Congressman John Garamendi on his new Twitter and Facebook accounts.