John Podesta Remarks to Wayne State University
John Podesta Remarks to Wayne State University
First, let me thank my old friend and one of your distinguished Professors, Charles Stivale, for inviting me to come to Detroit today.
Having grown up a few miles down the road in Chicago, I've always felt right at home in Detroit.
That's especially true this time of year.
In Washington, people have a fundamentally different outlook on winter than we do.
Just last week, for instance, a lot of schools and businesses in the Washington area decided to close down for a day because of the weather: it was raining.
They figured that, if it got cold enough, there was a real danger that the rain could – in fact – turn to snow.
And that was a risk they just did not want to take.
Of course, that's a much different attitude than we might have.
After all, we grew up knowing that winter has its advantages.
For instance, if you grow up in this part of the country you know that, if it stays cold long enough, the trunk of your car can actually double as a freezer.
And a good snow can even make it easier to drive because it fills in the potholes.
But, I want to tell you, the reason I've always enjoyed being with folks from Michigan isn't so much because we have similar attitudes about the weather. Instead, it's because we grew up sharing so many of the same values.
We grew up believing…
• that men and women who work with their hands have no less a right to earn a good living than anyone else.
• that a healthy environment – clean air, land, our water – the Great Lakes themselves – are the birthright of all our children.
• And, given how many of us had parents or grandparents who came here – whether from the Southern United States or Southern Europe, Eastern Europe, or the Middle East – looking for nothing else but the opportunity to work and have decent lives, I think we also grew up believing this country really does have a unique role to play in this world – and that America really does stand for something better, something honorable.
That’s why I think it causes so many of us so much pain to know that people in this world who once respected us, people who once loved us – now fear and even despise us.
The values we share are fundamental to who we are as a people – it’s what defines us as Americans.
Now, what does all that have to do with energy policy?
Everything… because whether these values converge or collide is going to be determined by how we answer the question of what our country's energy future will be.
Let me share just a few statistics with you.
The United States today has slightly less than 3% of the world’s oil reserves, but we use 25% of the world’s oil production.
We import 51 percent of our oil.
2.5 million barrels per day come from the Persian Gulf.
Of this, over 1.7 million barrels come from Saudi Arabia alone.
Sixty-five percent of the world's (known) oil reserves are in the Persian Gulf.
And where will oil come from in the future?
Eight-five percent of the increase in oil production between 2010 and 2020 is going to come from the Middle East.
That's why, notwithstanding the oil shocks of the 1970s, two wars fought in Iraq in less than 15 years, a global war against terrorism, the leverage of Middle East and Persian Gulf regimes on the United States not only isn't contracting… it's growing.
Tom Friedman of the New York Times has said that, as a result of our addiction to its oil, the United States has come to see that entire region as one giant gas station.
Our message to the powers that rule there has essentially been: we don't care who gets rich, we don't care about corruption, we don't care about poverty, we don't care how you treat women, we don't care that there's no democracy, we don't care that there are no free trade unions, we don't care if dissidents are imprisoned and tortured and killed.
Just make sure we get our gas.
Now, that's not the kind of foreign policy that's consistent with the values I talked about a moment ago.
But that kind of foreign policy is the inevitable outcome of an energy policy based on an addiction to oil.
And what has been the response of the Bush administration?
Doling out tax breaks and subsidies to the oil industry and giving away some of our most precious public lands in the vain hope of expanding domestic oil production.
A number of you might recall that it wasn't that long ago when they even flirted with the notion of expanding drilling for natural gas and oil under the Great Lakes.
And, I want to tell you, that if it wasn't for the efforts of one of your faculty members – then Congressman David Bonior – they might have gotten away with it!
But you know something?
Even if we were somehow able to satisfy our demand for oil from sources outside of the Persian Gulf – say from such politically stable regions as the Caspian Basin, Nigerian, and Angolan – the truth is that the countries of the Middle East would still have a lock on our economy.
It's because oil is a global commodity. OPEC would still be able to manipulate oil prices within the United States by reducing or increasing their own production.
And the impact of oil prices changes can be catastrophic= In fact, one study (by Oak Ridge Laboratory) found that the cost to the U.S. economy from the oil market upheavals of the last 30 years was $7 trillion!
That's why the real choice America is facing isn't between getting more oil abroad or producing more at home.
Neither option is going to promote a healthier environment, a better economy, or the kind of foreign policy that truly honors our values.
The real choice is between using more oil or less of it by investing in new technology, expanding conservation, and using solar energy, wind power and other renewable resources.
There's no question that the less oil we use, the less we'll pollute the air and the less we will contribute to global warming.
The less oil we use, the less risk we'll be spoiling our land and our water drilling for it.
And, of course, the less oil we use the more our country will be able to stand up for human rights and democracy in Saudi Arabia and other countries without fear that we'll pay for it in rising energy prices.
Now, this is usually the point where it's natural to ask "but what about the jobs?"
And, you know what? We ought to be asking "what about the jobs?" because that’s not a question they’re asking very much in the White House these days.
And it’s not too hard to see why.
Between March of 2001 and last December, our nation lost a net 2.9 million private sector jobs – 2.6 million of those were jobs in manufacturing.
Over the course of two years, Michigan alone lost 170,000 manufacturing jobs.
Household income is stagnant.
Poverty is up.
And today the part of the economy creating the most jobs new jobs is restaurants.
Of course, no one who lives in the Midwest needs to hear statistics. You see the evidence everyday.
And one place where we see it the most is in the auto industry, and industries that supply it.
And, in my judgment, one of the true tests of any energy policy is how it impacts car makers and auto workers.
Because we can’t say we have an economy that’s moving ahead if we have an energy policy that leaves the auto industry behind.
After all, there are more than 220 million cars, trucks and SUVs in this country logging more than 15 trillion miles annually.
The auto industry in this country is responsible for 6.6 million jobs nationwide.
What happens to those jobs – and what happens to the workers and the families who depend on those jobs – if America reduces its reliance on oil?
For a long time the environmental movement didn't have very good answers to those questions.
Too often, some talked as if automobiles were the problem in and of themselves when, in fact, the problem has never really been cars, but the fuel they use and how they use it.
Others were so focused on promoting futuristic ideas like using hydrogen fuel cells to power cars, that they never fully appreciated and promoted the gains that could be made immediately through more conventional technology.
Let me give you one small example.
Last September the Michigan Interfaith Climate and Energy Campaign released a study. They found that if the state of Michigan – just for the state government’s own vehicle fleet – began purchasing the most fuel-efficient cars available in their class, over the course of 10 years, it would save state’s taxpayers $4.5 million at the pump and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 57 thousand tons.
That's the equivalent of taking 1,000 cars off the road.
Imagine, for a moment, what it would mean for Michigan’s oil consumption and air quality if, instead of taking the equivalent of 1,000 cars off the road, we took the equivalent of 100,000 cars off the road.
We could do that – just with the equipment that available to us today.
Because the problem isn't so much that the technology isn't there – it's the lack of commitment to create the infrastructure to produce it, to support it and to market it.
For example, the good news is that there are lots of vehicles on the road today that – often unbeknownst to their drivers – can be run on 85 percent ethanol.
Ethanol is a biomass fuel. It’s made from corn and it burns cleaner than gasoline.
Now, using ethanol and other biomass fuels isn’t really a new idea.
In fact, ethanol has been used in cars in this country since 1908 when Henry Ford introduced the Model T. But what’s new is the potential for growth in biomass fuels made from agricultural wastes and other products.
Instead of using the starch from the corn kernel, using cellulose from crop waste will increase the amount of ethanol that can be produced from a crop because more of the plant will be used. Obtaining energy and other products from cellulose also avoids the consumption of food crops for industrial applications.
Starch-based ethanol has limited benefits in terms of oil displacement and greenhouse gas emissions, due to the substantial fossil fuel inputs required to grow grain and convert it to alcohol.
The benefits of cellulose conversion are dramatically larger; indeed, a conventional internal combustion engine operating on cellulosic ethanol produces fewer greenhouse gas emissions on a life-cycle basis than a fuel cell operating on hydrogen derived from fossil fuels.
One study by the Energy Future Coalition found that biomass energy has the potential to generate the equivalent of 60 percent of the world’s total energy use if we could harness it.
So, it’s great news that we have all these cars on the road that can use ethanol, right?
Well, not necessarily.
Because the bad news is that there aren't many gas pumps that can be filled up with ethanol!
Why? Because, right now, we have a federal policy that encourages auto makers to produce cars that can run on ethanol – but the White House supported a loophole that lets industry get credit for making the cars but doesn’t require that they actually USE cleaner fuels. We don’t have a policy that encourages them to tell anyone about it, let alone require gas stations to provide it.
And what’s been President Bush’s response to the problem?
Well, he just announced he was cutting federal funds to promote biomass by $14 million.
Now, I don't want to suggest that the auto companies have completely shirked their responsibilities. Right now, for instance, GM's truck plant down in Fort Wayne, Indiana is getting ready to start producing hybrid versions of the Chevy Silverado and the GMC Sierra.
They're slated to be in the showrooms by 2007.
Having those hybrids on the road won't only help reduce pollution and our dependence on oil, it's also going to mean good jobs for the members of UAW Local 2209. In fact, as I understand it, UAW members are right now involved in designing the assembly process and turning out the prototypes.
But the truth is that the auto industry in this country isn't going to commit to hybrids on the scale it needs to unless we make it happen. We need leadership to get there and the president’s, or should I say, the vice president’s energy plan is moving us in exactly the wrong direction.
Luckily there are a number of sound proposals and plans that can take us forward in a positive direction. For example, the Natural Resources Defense Council put together a comprehensive Energy Policy for the 21st Century. It lays out a common sense mix of policies to advance more efficient buildings, equipment and cars, develop renewables, and use our coal, gas and oil more wisely. If implemented, it would cut the oil consumption in half by 2020 and by three-quarters by 2030.
Another group I’m involved with, the Energy Future Coalition, has even been able to bring together folks ranging from the AFL-CIO to auto and electrical utility industry executives to the National Wildlife Federation to push common sense solutions for our energy problem.
Where in the past you might have seen environmental and public health advocates promoting their program… organized labor pushing its plan… and business and agricultural groups lobbying on behalf of a whole other approach… more and more these people, and others, are starting to find common ground.
That’s never really happened before.
Do all the partners always agree?
Not always, but there is dialogue and where there’s dialogue there’s opportunity.
I want to focus my comments today on another initiative that I’m particularly enthusiastic about: the Apollo Plan.
The Apollo Plan I'm talking about isn't the one President Kennedy had to put Americans on the Moon… and it has nothing to do with President Bush's notion to send people to Mars.
The Apollo Plan I'm talking about is one that's being proposed by a coalition of leaders from business, unions, the environmental movement, agriculture and the civil rights community.
What we're saying is that we want an energy policy based on those values I talked about a bit earlier.
An energy policy that promotes good jobs… a clean environment… and a sensible foreign policy. But, we're saying something else, too: that it's not going to happen unless America is prepared to invest in it.
What we're calling for is a 10-year, multi-billion dollar annual investment to:
• Speed the transition to hybrids and cars using biomass fuels.
• Retrofit old buildings to make them more energy efficient.
• Build a smarter, more reliable, more threat resistant electrical grid.
• And create a new demand for solar, wind power and other renewable energy resources and much more.
Why public investment?
There are two reasons.
The first is that like rural electrification, the building of the Interstate Highway System, and President Kennedy's Apollo program there are some goals so costly, yet so vital to our national interest, that they simply can't be left to investment by individual companies alone.
And that leads to the second reason. Which is that, absent the Apollo Plan, any transition America makes to renewable energy sources will largely accrue to the benefit of industries in other countries, not the United States.
For example, Japanese and European firms have increased their global market share of solar panels – technology American companies invented – from 25 to 50 percent.
What's more, European manufacturers now dominate 90 percent of the world's wind turbine production.
Why would a European automaker invest in having its U.S. subsidiary retool to produce the next generation of efficient diesel engines if it already has a plant that produces them in Germany? Or Japan?
The answer is it wouldn't.
That's why unless we make a national investment in conservation and renewable resources, we are going to find ourselves importing this equipment even though we have idle factories and unemployed workers who can do the job in Detroit, Flint, Chicago, Toledo and dozens of other cities.
Our coalition just completed a study and we found that if we invested $300 billion in conservation and renewables over 10 years, we would create 3.3 million new American jobs.
We'd create $953 billion in personal income.
$324 billion in retail sales.
$284 billion in net energy savings.
And, by making that investment, we'd stimulate (generate) $1.4 trillion in new Gross Domestic product.
Now, President Bush has a different vision.
While we want increased investment in energy efficiency, President Bush’s budget cuts funding in that area by $88 million.
As I mentioned a moment ago, we want more federal support to promote fuels like ethanol, but President Bush’s budget cuts support for biomass fuels by $14 million.
And, by the same token, President Bush also wants to slash spending on solar energy development by $3 million.
Where does President Bush want to spend more money? He wants to spend it on his hydrogen initiative: a plan to generate hydrogen fuel from coal and nuclear energy.
The scientific community is skeptical about the plan. They’ve said that the it would take decades see any real benefits, while near-term opportunities with hybrid cars languish.
The hydrogen program might not even yield any results at all in our lifetime.
But President Bush decided to spend an extra $13 million on it anyway, while cutting other advanced vehicle technology research by 12 percent.
Can we do better than that? I’m convinced we can. I don’t think we have a choice.
Because, at the end of the day, this isn’t a discussion about the value of one federal energy program over another.
It’s a debate about America… our America… and about the kind of future we want our country to have.
About the kind of country we’ll be able to pass on to our children.
About whether we’re going to have an America with a strong, growing economy.
About whether we’re going to have an America whose air is cleaner and whose water is safer.
An America where wilderness is preserved.
An America which no longer sends its sons and daughters in uniform into harm's way to defend oil rich despots whose values mock everything we believe in.
That's the kind of future I think we all want for this country.
I'm convinced that's the kind of future we can have.
Clean energy. A safer world. Jobs with a future.
A better life for kids growing up in this city and Chicago and cities all across this country.
The people in the cities and towns of the industrial heartland, through their hard work, ingenuity and commitment to community, helped define America’s greatness in the 20th Century; they can do it again in the 21st Century.
We have the tools to do it. We need the political will to harness America’s know how to get there.
Together, we can make it happen!
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