In a speech at George Mason University, Obama said the multi-billion dollar American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan he will advance immediately after he takes office on January 20, represents "not just new policy, but a whole new approach to meeting our most urgent challenges."
President-elect Barack Obama at George Mason University. (Photo Obama Transition Project)
"To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years," Obama said. "We will modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills."
"In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced," said Obama, "jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain."
The new Democrat-controlled Congress opened on Tuesday, with indications that Obama's plan will receive support.
At a forum Wednesday held by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee on the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, said that Congress will move quickly to implement the plan.
Said Pelosi, "We will be working in the days ahead with our President-elect so we have legislation before we observe President's Day this year." The holiday falls on February 16, 2009.
Senator Harry Reid (Photo courtesy Office of the Senator)
At a news conference Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada detailed the top 10 priorities for the new Congress, beginning with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help improve the economy.
"This Congress, Democrats have one explicit goal: to deliver the change Americans have demanded," Reid said. "We are confronting some of the most severe problems we have faced in generations. They didn't happen overnight and they won't be solved in a day, but by working together in a bipartisan fashion, Democrats know we can move our country forward."
Bipartisanship is an integral feature of the plan, Obama said today. Pledging transparency in decisionmaking, he said, "The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan won't just throw money at our problems - we'll invest in what works. The true test of the policies we'll pursue won't be whether they're Democratic or Republican ideas, but whether they create jobs, grow our economy, and put the American Dream within reach of the American people.
Many environmentalists support Obama's plan.
Friends of the Earth President Brent Blackwelder said, "America is facing profound and deeply intertwined energy and economic crises. President-elect Obama's speech today indicates he understands the tremendous scope and interrelated nature of these challenges - and that he is committed to leading the bold, transformative changes that will be needed to solve them."
"With his leadership," said Blackwelder, "we can create millions of green jobs "and revitalize our economy, while building a clean and efficient 21st Century infrastructure."
A crumbling bridge on the I-95 in northeast Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Photo credit unknown)
Friends of the Earth is running a "New Roads = New Pollution" campaign to encourage smart transportation investments in the stimulus package and to block funding for new roads. Instead, the group wants Obama to direct funding towards improving and expanding clean transportation options, including public transit and passenger rail, as well as on maintaining and repairing the roads and bridges that already exist.
"Dollar for dollar," said Blackwelder, "investments in public transportation and road and bridge repair create more jobs than new road construction and lead to cleaner air and less pollution."
The advocacy organization Environmental Defense today issued a transportation policy statement that urges the Obama administration and Congress to focus on "getting more value from existing infrastructure" to improve transportation, put Americans to work now, save money in the long run and reduce health-threatening air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
Policymakers should, "Increase support for transit in cities of all sizes and in all regions of the country," said Environmental Defense, putting the emphasis on "innovative but proven systems, such as bus-rapid-transit, that can deliver service quickly using the country's existing road infrastructure."
This road in Cedar Falls, Iowa was damaged by flooding in 2008. (Photo courtesy Iowa DOT)
In a letter delivered to Congress Wednesday, 159 businesses and organizations in the Sustainable Energy Network, joined by 61 individual activists, urged the lawmakers to focus on sustainable energy technologies and green jobs, but not nuclear power and fossil fuels, when they consider the economic stimulus bill this week.
The letter argues that "funding should be targeted at those energy efficiency and renewable energy projects that can be brought on line quickly, will maximize job creation, will curb greenhouse gases and energy imports, and have the least adverse social and environmental impacts."
Obama said today that his American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan will "put people to work repairing crumbling roads, bridges, and schools by eliminating the backlog of well-planned, worthy and needed infrastructure projects."
To "retrofit America for a global economy" he plans to update electricity transmission by building "a new smart grid that will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation."
He plans to expand broadband lines across America, "so that a small business in a rural town can connect and compete with their counterparts anywhere in the world."
But Obama did not minimize the difficult problems he faces as he takes the reins of power on January 20.
"We start 2009 in the midst of a crisis unlike any we have seen in our lifetime - a crisis that has only deepened over the last few weeks," said the president-elect. "Nearly two million jobs have now been lost, and on Friday we are likely to learn that we lost more jobs last year than at any time since World War II."
Obama listed America's economic woes - manufacturing at a 28 year low, businesses that cannot borrow or make payroll, families who cannot pay their bills or their mortgages, workers watching their life savings disappear.
A new smart grid is needed to move power from new alternative energy sources such as this SunEdison photovoltaic power plant near Alamosa, Colorado. (Photo by Tom Stoffel courtesy NREL)
"I don't believe it's too late to change course, but it will be if we don't take dramatic action as soon as possible," he said. "If nothing is done, this recession could linger for years. The unemployment rate could reach double digits. Our economy could fall $1 trillion short of its full capacity, which translates into more than $12,000 in lost income for a family of four."
"We could lose a generation of potential and promise, as more young Americans are forced to forgo dreams of college or the chance to train for the jobs of the future," Obama said. "And our nation could lose the competitive edge that has served as a foundation for our strength and standing in the world."
Obama placed the blame for America's weakened economy on "an era of profound irresponsibility that stretched from corporate boardrooms to the halls of power in Washington, DC," reciting the now well-known problems - "imprudent and dangerous decisions" by Wall Street executives, banks and borrowers, and politicians who have "spent taxpayer money without wisdom or discipline."
"The result has been a devastating loss of trust and confidence in our economy, our financial markets, and our government," he said.
But sounding his perennial message of hope, Obama said opportunity and prosperity can be restored, and he promised to begin rebuilding America immediately.
"The very fact that this crisis is largely of our own making means that it is not beyond our ability to solve," he said. "Our problems are rooted in past mistakes, not our capacity for future greatness."
Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.