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Public Statements

Speech on the Environment and Energy Independence—John F. Kennedy Library Forum

By:
Date:
Location: Boston, MA

We meet in a place that testifies both to the soaring aspirations of America - and the capacity of events to break our hearts and our hope. We saw that again a week ago in the fiery tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia falling from the sky - the new ocean we explore that President Kennedy launched us on more than forty years before. No one can doubt that we will return. Even as we mourn and even now as we investigate and debate, we have reaffirmed our resolve. Yet in the past week, other events that test our spirit and strength passed almost unnoticed. We lost four sons of America in Afghanistan and it hardly caused a ripple. Indeed, every day we lose Americans in our streets and we lose important public values and assets without much notice; more and more we seem resigned to accepting this as a matter of course. But it is not acceptable. Too often today our national capacity to translate principle into political action appears dulled or dumbed down beyond the comprehensible - as false rhetoric becomes a substitute for meeting the reality of our challenges. We will not got to the stars on the cheap - and here on earth we will not accomplish our work by short-changing it. We need to renew our national resolve - not just in the face of fatal tragedy or fateful attack, but across the board. We need to push back against complacency and the political caution that tempts us just to go along. We need to push back on tax cuts that make no economic sense - on stimulus packages that don't stimulate - on health care treated more and more as a privilege and not as the right it should be. We need to push back on focus grouped slogans of compassion that show little or no compassion at all - We need to push back on a foreign policy that puts America unnecessarily at risk - on rhetoric about draining the swamp of terrorists while our policies too often ignore the poisonous flow that fills the swamp. So it is appropriate that we gather here at a memorial to John F. Kennedy. His vision can help us focus in our difficult times. One of his great gifts was the way in which he challenged us to dream of the future as only Americans can. He inspired us to set our sights high in the pursuit of progress and to find ways to reach our goals—to send a man to the moon, to confront the ignorance and injustice of bigotry, and to send Americans all over the world to bring about a better life and strengthen the bond among nations. He asked us to do these things not because they were easy but because they were hard - and above all else, because they were right. That is what we need to do today - tell the truth, talk common sense, and find a common vision equal to the best of our history and our hopes. This begins by acknowledging that nowhere is there a more determined, more dangerous, more concerted frontal and stealth assault on our values and our future than the Bush Administration's disregard for the environment. Nowhere is there a greater need for a new vision - a better vision - than in the decisions we make that affect the health of the environment we share with the other 95% of humanity. We know intuitively that America is only as healthy as the water our children drink, the air they breathe, the yards and parks in which they play and laugh, and the communities in which they live. The question is whether armed with that knowledge our generation will leave our children and grandchildren an earth that is cleaner not more degraded, more beautiful not more polluted, healthier and safer for children and other living things than the world we inherited from our parents and grandparents. I remember reading Rachel Carson's 'Silent Spring' and feeling we had a responsibility to do something about lakes full of toxins and rivers that caught on fire. Thirty years ago, I was part of that peaceful Army of conscience that launched the first Earth Day here in the Commonwealth to demand the most basic safeguards for our air, water and land. The first calls for environmental stewardship were instantly and insistently opposed by some in industry, who threatened that even modest reform was technologically impossible and economically ruinous. But across the nation people gathered and they organized - just as we did here in New England - and mounted a great democratic march toward pioneering laws like the Clean Air Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act - fundamental protections that Americans take for granted today. We removed lead from gasoline, set out to clean up polluted waterways, cut back air pollution, took back land that had been lost to toxic waste - and we even saved the bald eagle from extinction. And with this progress, we disproved the rallying cry of the polluters and their apologists. We proved that a good environment and a sound economy go hand in hand. This was a bi-partisan cause, as it should be. Republicans and Democrats breathe the same air, and our children drink the same water. But now, after a generation when we sometimes differed on specific issues but always moved in the same direction, this administration has broken the bond of shared commitment. When have we heard the President propose anything other that tokenism on the environment? Where is the strategy for energy efficiency to reduce pollution and reduce the energy dependence which can hold our entire economy hostage to hostile powers? The environmental challenge is more pressing and more profound than ever. It involves our national resources, our national security, and the ways in which human beings will live together on this planet. More must be done, not less. Far more - yet we don't have to look far to see the challenge; it is all around us. Too many of American lakes and rivers remain polluted; today nearly half of Massachusetts' waterways are too polluted to fish or swim in and 44% across the nation. Hundreds of toxic sites - dangerous to the millions who live near them - blight places all across the country. The soot, smog and other pollution in our air still sickens our fellow citizens and contributes to 30,000 deaths each year. Thanks to dirty power plants that we refuse to modernize, mercury emissions are expected to climb to 60 tons in 2010, a 33% increase over 1990 levels. Each summer, smog triggers over 6 million asthma attacks and results in nearly 70,000 hospital admissions. We're rapidly encroaching upon our forests, wetlands and farmlands and all the natural ecosystems that sustain us. And ever more awesome challenges have emerged as we now understand the mortal threat of pollution to our oceans and our climate.

Special Interests Before National Interests

We had our earth day. Now, if necessary, if this administration will not change course, the next election year must be an earth year, where we plainly and unequivocally fight for the environment against those now at the center of power who are dismantling that commitment piece by piece.

Perhaps that charge takes some by surprise. After all, in his State of the Union address President Bush promised the nation that, "We will not deny, we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations." And to match that soaring rhetoric the Administration has launched a series of environmental policies so duplicitous they would make George Orwell blush at this President's mastery of doublespeak. They have mastered the tactic of slapping slick slogans on their policies that make them sound like something they're not. The President's 'Healthy Forests' initiative sounds great, except that's where you kill the trees to save the forest. He has a 'Clear Skies' program based on the premise that our air will be cleaner when you let companies decide how much they can pollute. And while I applaud the President for finally acknowledging the potential of hydrogen cars, I'm convinced his 'Freedom Car' was really dreamed up to maintain the political freedom of this White House to open up the Rocky Mountains and the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling. It's the new Dick Cheney playbook - 'drill today, drill tomorrow, hydrogen sometime,' and hope we don't see through the media smokescreen. The truth is, President Bush provides the right rhetoric, but then pursues all the wrong policies. He says he wants to clean up toxic waste sites, but he's reversed the polluter pays principle in the Superfund, and that means the fund will soon run dry and cleanups will stop. We're already feeling the effect. The Atlas Tack site in Fairhaven contains cyanide, heavy metals, pesticides and PCBs. Some 7,000 people live within a one mile of the site. And this year, the Bush Administration provided exactly zero dollars for cleanup. Across the country, seven toxic sites and the communities that must live with them got nothing. The President's Clear Skies initiative for power plants is anything but clear. It is, in fact, slower and weaker than current law. It is a step backwards that will spew more pollution into air - pollution that causes asthma, heart disease, neurological damage and even death - and contributes to acid rain, smog, soot and mercury in our rivers and lakes. And we will bear the brunt of the President's plan, because, although New England has done its part, weather will carry pollution from distant heavily-polluting power plants to our communities. And never forget, it is not just broken environmental policy, it is a broken promise from a President who pledged on the campaign trail to cut carbon emissions from power plants - and now won't.
The President calls his energy plan "balanced." And I suppose it is, if balanced means what it did for the books at Enron and WorldCom. Quite simply, if we enacted the Bush plan today, we would find ourselves more polluting and more dependent on foreign oil in 20 years than we are today. His Freedom Car initiative throws a bone to those of us who have called for intense research into hydrogen fuel, but it's no substitute for making the more than 300 million cars that will be built before fuel cell cars hit the road more efficient - and that is exactly what John McCain and I fought for last year and it's exactly what President Bush fought against. The litany of environmental neglect and rollback could go on, to wetlands, to toxics, to clean water, to roadless forests, to our public lands. Corporate polluters have found in the Bush Administration that the doors of government are wide open. In fact, the Administration invited in the chief lobbyists to rewrite the very laws that were intended to protect us from them. This Administration has heeded the special interests rather than America's interest and the result has been the most wide-ranging retreat on environmental protections in a century. Americans want to make sure the water we drink is clean. But this Administration tried to increase the limits of arsenic in our water. Americans want the toxic sites in our neighborhoods cleaned up. But this Administration has cut the number of sites we're cleaning up nearly in half. Americans believe in simple justice: that what you mess up you should clean up. But this Administration has found a new principle: when today's polluters pollute and profit, taxpayers should foot the bill. Americans believe in cleaning up pollution, not subsidizing it. But this Administration protects government subsidies that ignore or undermine our commitment to a clean environment. The Fossil Energy Research and Development program spends more than $400 million on R&D for oil companies who can afford their own R&D—and even duplicates research they're already engaged in.
Meanwhile clean alternative energies compete for the scraps of a mere $24 million in federal venture capital. Americans believe we can build an international consensus to address the threat of global warming. But this Administration ignored it - sending a message that reverberated around the globe - and will reverberate upon future generations. Their meetings are behind closed doors, but their agenda is plain to see. What is particularly plain to me is that we need a new agenda and America needs a healthier environment - with cleaner air, water, and land. We need and we must have a future that is no longer dependent on oil from unstable regions. So let's take the President at his word. We will not deny; we will not ignore, we will not pass along our problems to other Congresses, to other presidents, and other generations. But, unlike this president, our actions must be as bold as our rhetoric. Instead of weakening the Clean Air Act, let's strengthen it to reduce mercury, sulfur, nitrogen and carbon emissions. Instead of letting the Superfund go broke, sticking taxpayers with the tab, and forcing communities to live with toxic sites, let's restore the polluter pays principle and get the poisons out of our neighborhoods. And let's deal with new threats, not deny them, turning away and pretending not to see as more and more Americans are exposed to more and more toxics in combinations we've never imagined. There are some 80,000 chemicals registered for use in the United States, and each day we are exposed to hundreds, even thousands, of them. They are released into our environment, into our air, water and land and they find their way into the food chain. We bring them into our homes in the food and products we buy, from cleaners to cosmetics to our children's toys. We assume the chemicals are safe, but that's a mistake. Fewer than 10 percent have been tested, and some of have been linked to cancer, birth defects and infertility. It's long since time we give the EPA and FDA the authority and capacity to investigate, monitor and test the long-term risks of these compounds. Our environment and our bodies are no place to experiment with chemicals. We must also help cities across the nation, like the old manufacturing towns all across New England, build the infrastructure that will keep sewage and polluted runoff out of our rivers, lakes and harbors, and beyond this, we must leverage a new urban strategy in America to plan spaces - build community - avoid the endless sprawl that robs us of our public spaces - and ultimately revive the urban center as one of the best places to live and raise a family. We must manage our land knowing we will someday pass it on to tomorrow's generations. We must work it, reap its harvest, and care for it. This is not just an ideal or a possibility; it is a deeply practical imperative.

Economy

And the good news is our progress in technology and the lessons of the past three decades, have taught us that cleaning up the environment will strengthen not weaken our economy.

We need to push back on the scaremongering which falsely portrays pollution as the price of prosperity. We don't have to choose between jobs and the environment. Protecting the environment is jobs - the high value added jobs of the future. This is not pie-in-the-sky, tree hugging, do-gooder environmental day dreaming. This is real. It's happening in pioneering efforts across the country and across the globe. It awaits our leadership. When I hear the polluters and their favored politicians invoke the issue of jobs and growth, my response is: It is not us who should be on the defensive - it's them and it's time we put them there. In doing so, we cannot talk vague generalities. We must show real jobs, real costs, real transition numbers.
We must show that our next generation of environmental solutions represent the least intrusive, most cost effective ways of doing the job. We must show the growth in demand in America and precisely how we will meet it, not just without loss but with gain in the quality of our lives. We know if we invest in new technologies we can build cars and SUVs that are twice and three times as efficient as today - and one day a car that relies on no oil at all. And a company that may help build that car can be found right there in Cambridge; it's called Nuvera Fuel Cells and it's putting fuel cell components in prototype cars today. We know if we support promising research, we can get cleaner coal, renewable sources of energy like wind and solar energy, light our homes and businesses with fuel cells, and run power plants that don't turn the jet stream into a river of pollution. And today the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 103 is taking the lead by training technicians in the maintenance and installation of solar. Minnesota now requires that a percentage of its electricity be generated from the wind, and family farmers have gone into the power business. In Woodstock, Minnesota, Richard and Roger Kas have built 17 wind turbines on their land, creating enough electricity to power more than 2,000 homes. Other farmers are literally growing renewable fuels in their fields which will bring warmth and light to our homes. For Americans who work in engineering, design, and industry, the growth of wind, solar and geothermal can spark an unprecedented surge in production. And since developing new energy technologies is a research-driven, pathbreaking activity, a commitment to it will yield thousands and ultimately hundreds of thousands of well-paying new jobs. The machines of renewable energy will be made of steel, aluminum and glass. They will be machined, manufactured, distributed and maintained. And in that historic effort, I do not want and we cannot afford to see this country take a backseat to the Germans or the Japanese. This new direction for America can create new jobs for Americans, and it's up to us to make our economy second to none on this technological frontier. Building more efficient cars and SUVs will not only save millions of barrels of oil a day; in the end, it will create or sustain millions jobs. So will building high-speed rail and 21st century transit. The possibilities are limitless. But it will take a commitment as broad and bold as sending a man to the moon. And we can't fulfill that commitment by sending the environment to the back of the budget - and putting the polluters in charge, in secret, behind closed doors.

Energy Security Is National Security

In the end, though, our concerns about the environment are not just about the economy and quality of life here at home. Make no mistake: our environment and energy policies are critical to national our security. The Bush-Cheney energy policies leave us at the mercy of a region racked with violence and instability, now more than ever. We can no longer tolerate a dependence on foreign oil, that could be cut-off amid global chaos at the whim of unstable tyrants like Saddam Hussein. The Bush Administration thinks we can drill our way out of our energy problems. And their solution is to drill in one of our precious national treasures - the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. That's not an energy policy, that's simply the needless pursuit of profit. They brought this plan to the United States Senate—and we stopped them. Now they say they will try again - and I pledge to you that we will stop them again. This Administration likes fuzzy math but any child can do the math on oil. The fact is when 65% of the world's oil supply is in the Gulf and only 3% in America. There is no way we can drill our way to energy independence. We have to invent our way there. A founding member of the OPEC oil cartel said years ago that the Stone Age didn't end because we ran out of stones, and the oil age won't end because we run out of oil. At the start of the 21st century, we have new possibilities to develop technologies that advance both our economy and our environment—and at the same time become a nation and a world less and less dependent on oil. We can create a market for clean, domestic, reliable energy with a national standard for renewable power in the electricity sector. I believe we should set a national goal of having 20% of our electricity come from domestic alternative and renewable sources by the year 2020. Twenty-twenty - I think it's a vision worthy of America; a goal I believe our citizens are ready to embrace. We can reform the tax code to end the federal largess given to polluting fuels and invest instead in the technologies that will make our homes and businesses and transportation more efficient and bring renewable energy to market. We can cut our dependence on foreign oil by building more efficient cars and SUVs and creating a national market for the biofuels grown on farms across the nation. Domestic, renewable sources are urgently needed now because they are entirely under our control. No foreign government can embargo them. No terrorist can seize control of them. No cartel can play games with them. No American soldier will have to risk his or her life to protect them. For all those reasons—to create a better, more secure and cleaner environment—and to move to real energy security—I believe even the most rock-ribbed conservative would agree we must take steps that go beyond what market forces will do on their own. We should be the world's environmental leader. Our global environmental policy should be driven by our convictions, not our constraints. America has not led but fled on the issue of global warming. The first President Bush was willing to lead on this issue. But the second President Bush's declaration that the Kyoto Protocol was simply Dead on Arrival spoke for itself - and it spoke in dozens of languages as his words whipped instantly around the globe. What the Administration failed to see was that Kyoto was not just an agreement; it represented the resolve of 160 nations working together over 10 years. It was a good faith effort - and the United States just dismissed it. We didn't aim to mend it. We didn't aim to sit down with our allies and find a compromise. We didn't aim for a new dialogue. The Administration was simply ready to aim and fire, and the target they hit was our international reputation. This country can and should aim higher than preserving its place as the world's largest unfettered polluter. We should assert, not abandon our leadership in addressing global economic degradation and the warming of the atmosphere that if left unchecked, will do untold damage to our coastline and our Great Plains, our cities and our economy. We should be the world's leader in sustainable developmental. We should be the world's leader in technology transfer and technical assistance to meet a host of environmental and health challenges. Several years ago I worked with the World Bank to organize the first sustainable development conference in Southeast Asia to help Vietnam consider the balance of development and sustainability so Hanoi doesn't become Beijing, a city where people have to wear surgical masks just to take a breath of air. Avoid breathing the dirty air. We brought corporations and scientists and engineers to the table to find cleaner ways for Vietnam to develop. The question is why we're not doing that everywhere around the globe; the question is why we don't have a President who recognizes that friends we rely on to clean up on the environment are friends we can call on help clean out the stables of terrorism. If we are going to be true stewards for the air, water and land, for our nation and the earth itself, we must remember that we are all in this together. This is about our values. It is about who we are as a people. So those of us who are Democrats must stand as a party for the preservation and protection of the environment. We can all wish it did not have to be so - that this Administration shared the bi-partisan commitment of other republicans before them. After all, some of the greatest progress on the environment has come across party lines - the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act. It was Richard Nixon who looked at the burning rivers and smog filled cities and decided to support an Environmental Protection Agency. Americans don't think about whether they are a Democrat or a Republican when they worry about a child's asthma or polluted tap water. They think about their local towns and playgrounds, their everyday lives and their future. My mother was a committed citizen. She started a local recycling program in Manchester by the Sea. She worked in her community to build a nature trail. I still remember her waking me up in the early hours of the morning to walk with her in the woods listening to the sound of wild birds. I didn't understand it at the time, but that's what the environmental moment is about - leaving your little piece of this planet better for your children than you found it. Citizens like my mother across the nation work every day to preserve that legacy. And so should our national leaders. They should not be guided by big polluters or Washington lobbyists. They should be guided by a profound commitment to the protection of the earth, a greater and more healthy prosperity, a more genuine and stronger national security. If we want to be a nation that honors our responsibilities, values our families, and safeguards our society, then we must change our direction. We must forge a new path to an America that looks beyond the next election to the next generation. An America where the use of military might is not clouded by our need for oil. Where the stability of our economy is not rattled by the instability of a dictator or an authoritarian regime. Where no child grows up near toxic cites and poisonous chemicals. Where citizens concerned about the environment have the same access to the White House that big oil companies do today. Where our children can treasure the calm and clear water of the Great Lakes, and the majesty of the Rocky Mountains. In the summer of 1963, in the months after he signed the nuclear test ban treaty, what he called that first step to "make the world safe for human survival," President Kennedy traveled across the western United States, to the Rockies and beyond, and spoke of that other fundamental cause that would shape the future and fate of America - the conservation of our land, our air, and our water. That call summons us with renewed urgency today. Like his call to end the nuclear nightmare and the evil of racism, the outcome now is up to all of us to believe as he did "Here on earth God's work must truly be our own." In that spirit let us embark on our own journey toward that timeless vision of "America the beautiful." And long after that journey, let our grandchildren look back on it and say that we were the generation that used our time to protect the Earth for all time.

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