Right Where We Want ‘Em

That's what Congressman Blumenauer of Portland, Ore., was quoted as saying today, talking about the convergence of the climate change emergency and the economic crisis:  "We've got 'em right where we want 'em." 

What he means by that (I think) is that we have an opportunity now to move our society away from policies that have brought us global warming and the worst economy since the 1930s, and towards a green, sustainable, high-employment future.  That opportunity was the topic of today's speakers at the Good Jobs, Green Jobs conference in Washington, D.C.

This morning I attended a workshop on the reauthorization of the surface transportation bill, known to transpo wonks as "T4."  This is a multi-billion dollar piece of legislation that, as one speaker said, has historically been considered a trophy item for the highway lobby.

But no more.  Now, as my colleague Deron Lovaas pointed out, we have an unprecedented opportunity to use federal dollars to build out public transit within cities and rail links between cities - instead of just laying down more asphalt.  Deron said that, in the U.S., we have 44 auto trips for every transit trip (as opposed to 7 to 1 in Canada).  Thus, there is huge leverage available to cut down on auto traffic, and the carbon emissions that cars produce, by investing in public transit.  The same Congress will be debating T4 and the new climate change bill; Deron and others at NRDC will help them make the connection between the two.

In the plenary sessions, Senator Stabenow of Michigan spoke about how the manufacture of wind turbine parts and solar panels in the U.S. can bring American manufacturing back to life.  Senator Klobuchar of Minnesota wants to see Rosie the Riveter making wind turbines; she pointed out that that the new energy technology economy won't be concentrated in one area, as in Silicon Valley for the information technology industry, but will be spread throughout the country wherever there is manufacturing capacity.  Teamster General President Hoffa was on the same page:  solar panels, hydroelectric generators, and wind turbines should be union-made in America.  "It doesn't do us any good to buy the hardware from China."

In the afternoon, I was on a panel with Jeff Farmer (our moderator) and Fred McLuckie from the Teamsters, John Krieger from U.S. PIRG, and Ingrid Matthaus-Maier, the former CEO of a huge German economic development bank.  We had probably the longest title of any workshop here:  "Ensuring Sustainable Movement of People and Parcels - Taking the High Road Towards Transportation Infrastructure."  Huh?  Anyhow, we had a full house for our session.

John led off with an overview of the fast-changing status of the economic recovery bill in the Senate.  As of this writing, the Senate is in a late-night session debating the many amendments.  One problem that John noted is that the bill is heavily weighted towards highway projects, at the expense of public transit.

I followed John and talked about NRDC's work at the LA ports, and how that work can be duplicated nationwide to clean up dirty ports while creating good, well-paying jobs.  In my view, an environmental remedy has to be economically sustainable in order to work, and that is precisely why NRDC supports the Port of LA Clean Trucks plan, as I've pointed out many times in my blog posts.  I also talked about the new jobs that will be created manufacturing new, clean diesel trucks, retrofit kits for older trucks, electric drayage trucks and, some day, electric long-haul trucks, and in the renewable power industry that we will need to support those vehicles. 

Ingrid followed me and gave a fascinating talk about how her development bank, KfWBankengruppe, works.  It is backed by the German government, not taxed, and does not distribute profits.  These facts allow it to borrow cheaply in the capital markets and loan more cheaply than commercial banks.  It has loaned many billions of euros to support renewable energy facilities, green housing development, commuter trains, bicycle lanes, and even heavy rolling stock that beats current government standards.  It has been wildly successful and is not a basket case like so many U.S. financial institutions. 

Fred finished the session by talking about the Teamsters' view of the economic recovery bill and T4.  He recognized (as I did) that the recovery bill is unlikely to get us "where we want 'em" on greening our transportation infrastructure and creating good jobs.  But we are both hopeful that, working together, we can get 'em there on T4.  If not now, then when?