Cantwell Calls for Climate Solutions, Investment in Clean Energy Economy
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, in a speech on the Senate floor, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) called for bipartisan action on climate change, as well as investments in the clean energy economy.
- “We can become more energy independent. We can become more energy efficient. And doing so actually creates new jobs that are higher-wage jobs and help us with the future.”
- “What Americans want to know is whether we can make it through this transition without doing great damage to our economy, and I think the results of us working together to pass these legislative ideas in the last decade have proven to be very strong incentives.”
- “I want the United States to be a leader in clean energy technology. I don’t want to leave this up to our competitors and other countries for them to reap the benefit of better technology and higher-wage jobs. I want us to reap these benefits. And so I have seen many companies who have made their transition in the energy sector from a fossil fuel focus to now renewables, and I hope that will continue to happen.”
- “I am so concerned about the costs of extreme weather and the impacts of climate change… in the Northwest, we’re already seeing more damage from fires that have become a constant threat every summer. We have seen a shellfish industry that has basically been threatened by warmer waters. We have seen our coastline and other challenges to changing sea levels.”
A full transcript of Senator Cantwell’s remarks is available below.
CANTWELL: Mr. President, I come to the floor to join this debate, and I thank my colleagues, the Senator from Illinois and certainly the Senator from Alaska, for her comments because I think some of what I'm going to say will probably overlap in the context of working together to get things done. Why do I say that is so important? Because she and I worked on a bipartisan energy package that we passed out of the United States Senate over two years ago that had very important, what I would call implementation strategies, for allowing our businesses and our communities to be more cost competitive when it comes to energy.
Certainly, in the state of Alaska, I can't imagine paying $9 a gallon for fuel just to heat a home or to have your hospital or your school available for kids to go to play in after school, or just meet the health care needs of a community. So getting energy right, not just in big urban cities like Seattle, which is a lot easier to do, we have net zero buildings. Probably some of the best net zero buildings in the country, already establishing how you can create energy and sell it back to the grid and be more energy efficient, but we have to have solutions that are going to meet the needs all across the United States of America.
So, good news to hear that the Chairwoman of the Energy Committee is planning another energy bill and hopefully some of those provisions that we worked on two years ago, like smart building strategy to help the re-engineering of energy systems within our buildings to make them more energy efficient, would also go a long way. That's about 40% of America's energy use, and every dollar we help a business save in energy costs just gets plugged back into that business's competitiveness in working in today's economy. So I thank her for that, and I look forward to seeing what she and the Ranking Member, Senator Manchin, push forward, and certainly I know we will have our ideas.
But we are here, part of this debate, about the energy policy and getting it right for our future prosperity and our competitiveness. And I also agree with my colleague that getting things done is important because I think what we have proven over the last decade, maybe 15 years, is that we can transition to cleaner fuels. We can become more energy independent. We can become more energy efficient. And doing so actually creates new jobs that are higher-wage jobs and help us with the future. What Americans want to know is whether we can make it through this transition without doing great damage to our economy, and I think the results of us working together to pass these legislative ideas in the last decade have proven to be very strong incentives.
First of all, let's talk about incentives writ large, tax incentives, because we've been involved with the Finance Committee over the last several years to put in place tax credits that rebalanced our incentives as a nation more on the side of renewable energy and away from fossil fuels. In 2008, my colleague, then-Senator Ensign of Nevada, and I were able to work to make sure that we were driving down the cost of solar and wind and biofuels. This legislation, which was extended in the Recovery Act, now helps us with wind supplies of over 6% of the U.S. supply.
So I know that my colleagues in Iowa know how important this is because their state’s electricity generates millions of dollars in economic activity. So, the fact that we focused on renewables in our tax incentive policy has helped that industry grow and become a very big part of our system.
Today's grid economy also is being modernized, and we’ve worked to put R&D on the table and to allow communities throughout the United States to invest in smart grid technology. The presiding officer comes from a state where they are probably leaders in a lot of renewable energy. I know there are wind projects in the state of Washington from companies in his state that are showing just how efficient wind has become over a long period of time.
Now, who would have originally thought if I was talking about the presiding officer’s state, Florida, that we would be talking about wind? You would think we would be talking about solar. But this is just to show you that the era of distributed generation – that energy can be created from lots of different sources, put on the grid, moved around cost effectively in smart ways to become more efficient – would help us move forward the future of giving people better opportunities than the pollution that we see from carbon-intensive areas of the United States.
So, even in areas around the United States that still do remain on coal, now people are starting to see that these renewables are cheaper. The Northern Indiana Public Service Company found that building renewables is cheaper than keeping open existing coal plants. According to the company’s 2018 Integrated Resource Plan filed in October, they can save their customers $4 billion over the next 30 years by ramping down the amount of coal they use, from 2/3 of their generation mix today, to 15% by 2023, and eliminating the use of coal entirely by 2028. So these aren’t just places like my state in Washington, where we have, as I said, a lot of technology and a lot of efficiency, but also states that are making the transition off of these fossil fuels, showing that it’s cheaper for their consumers and that that that is a good investment.
And we know that new wind power purchase agreements continue to set records for the lowest-cost power, putting downward pressure on electricity costs nationwide. I can’t tell you how important that is. Coming from a state where we have had cheap hydro for decades, decades, and decades, it has built our economy over and over again. I like to say it helped us store apples. After you pick apples and you want to store them for a while, guess what helps? Cheap electricity. But now we store bits. Actual software bits. Data centers who want cheap electricity. So the very nature of cheap electricity keeps driving Washington’s economy over and over.
So I know that other states in the nation would benefit from cheaper electricity sources. It would help their businesses, and it would help their consumers. So today, despite the fact over 94% of all electricity generating capacity added over the past century has been in the renewable area or natural gas, consumers are paying 4% less per kilowatt hour for electricity than they did a decade ago. So this diversification off of fossil fuels, this investment in these cleaner sources of energy, are helping consumers lower rates, and that is why we need to keep going.
There is a reason Fortune 500 companies are among the largest renewable energy investors in the country. According to the Wall Street Journal, corporations as diverse as Budweiser, The Gap, MGM International, have invested over $16 billion in wind and solar in 2018 and is expected to double in 2019. Even the utility industry is waking up to the new reality. The CEO of NextEra, the largest U.S. electricity company in the world by market capitalization, recently told investors that solar and wind plus storage will be cheaper than coal and oil or nuclear. So, this is something that we need to realize, that specifically he said that the subsidy for wind generation costs will be 2 to 2.5 cents per kilowatt, and large-scale solar will only be a little higher than that. And adding storage to this will only cost a half cent more.
That is why getting the R&D budget right for the Department of Energy right now, and ARPA-E, is so critical. We can’t cut these programs. We need to make sure that we’re continuing to make an investment so that our nation’s electricity sector provides not only more affordable, not only more reliable, but also cleaner energy that will help us with our atmosphere.
We already now have 3.2 million people working in the clean energy sector. That’s nearly 3 times as many jobs as in the fossil fuel industry, and yet people continue to act like this is an economic debate only about one sector over the other. It is about how we make the transition, how we skill and train people for these future opportunities that support millions of jobs here in the United States of America.
Now why do I want to continue to go that route? Because I want the United States to be a leader in clean energy technology. I don’t want to leave this up to our competitors and other countries for them to reap the benefit of better technology and higher-wage jobs. I want us to reap these benefits. And so I have seen many companies who have made their transition in the energy sector from a fossil fuel focus to now renewables, and I hope that will continue to happen.
Another area that we’ve incented over the last 10 years that has, I think, proven to be a good investment – Senator Hatch and I teamed up in 2007 to introduce legislation providing a $7,500 tax credit for plug-in electric vehicles. Now I know at the time people thought, “Well what is this electric vehicle market all about?” But I think we can look here in 2019 and we see exactly what this is about – that consumers have more choices, there are more competitors in the market, and we are reducing our dependence on fossil fuel. So, that is why we need to fight President Trump’s budget request to take away those tax incentives on people who buy electric vehicles, because we need to still continue to move forward on driving down the cost.
Another area that we made progress on in the last decade was fuel efficiency for automobiles. I can tell you what that fight was like in 2007 as we struggled here to move forward. But fuel efficiency economy increases will result in oil savings in 2030 of about 3 million barrels per day, more than we import from the Persian Gulf or Venezuela combined. So, we do not need to roll back fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. I believe this is a red herring. We know that fuel efficiency helps consumers drive to work every day and afford to fill up in a more economic way. If the Trump administration does roll back these fuel efficiency gains, owners of an average model year 2025 vehicle will have to fill up their gas tanks 66 times more and cost drivers over $1,620 more than they currently pay. So why roll them back?
Another great area of success has been on establishing a renewable fuel standard back in 2007 in that same bipartisan energy package that was worked on by so many members of this institution, and successfully by so many members in this institution. So, to me, it stands in stark contrast to where we are today in this debate, because all of the people working together – our colleague, the late Senator Ted Stevens and the late Senator Danny Inouye played key roles as the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Commerce Committee, the EPW Committee, the Energy Committee all added to that legislation in 2007. But this bipartisan increase and expansion of the renewable fuel standard was a great way to look at home-grown fuels for the future and making up a larger source of that supply today from renewable, clean energy.
So all of these show that we have made progress working together over the last decade or so working in a bipartisan way to demonstrate that this transition is necessary, that this transition can be made, that we can make it successfully without hurting our economy, and that we can drive down costs for businesses and consumers and better protect our environment. That is so, so critical.
I am so concerned about the costs of extreme weather and the impacts of climate change that I asked my colleague, Senator Collins, to request with me that the Government Accounting Office study what the cost of these impacts were. Why did I want that information? Because in the Northwest, we’re already seeing more damage from fires that have become a constant threat every summer. We have seen a shellfish industry that has basically been threatened by warmer waters. We have seen our coastline and other challenges to changing sea levels. So we wanted that information, and the result of that was they said current estimates for the impacts as a result of climate and weather impacts would by 2039 exceed $1 trillion.
So these are costs that we’re going to pay in mitigation, in adaptation. So I would rather get about the task of diversifying now and reduced those costs that are going to be paid out by the American taxpayer. We can do better. So moving towards a cleaner economy off of fossil fuels is what we need to do. And with today’s energy infrastructure turning over every 3 or 4 decades anyway, which will take an investment of $25 to $30 trillion, making the right choices from the private sector, is what we need to be the partner with. So I look forward to working with my colleagues on that, working with my colleague from the Energy Committee, Senator Murkowski, and my colleague Senator Manchin, and all the other colleagues on that committee to help us get these strategies right.
We know the answer to this question, that moving forward on cleaner sources is better for our environment and that we have made great strides in the last decade in doing so and driving a better economic opportunity for both the consumers and the future energy workers of the United States.
I thank the president. I yield the floor.
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