NDN Blog

Nation’s Leaders Focus on Infrastructure Investment

Today, three of the nation’s most well regarded leaders, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, and California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, will speak about the need to invest in the nation’s decaying infrastructure. The Building America’s Future Coalition is advocating the inclusion of infrastructure investment in both major parties’ platforms, and is looking at infrastructure in terms of provisions that stimulate the economy and improve quality of life, environmental sustainability, and national security.

This timely talk comes as Marisol Bello of USA Today reports on the dangerously shoddy state of the nation’s bridges:

The fatal collapse of a bridge in Minneapolis a year ago jolted states into better inspections of the nation's 600,000 bridges, but they aren't coming up with the billions of dollars needed to ensure that all of them are sound.

The plunge that killed 13 people when the span crumpled into the Mississippi River on Aug. 1 was "a wake-up call" to take care of aging bridges, says Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell. "We can't wait for another Minneapolis."

Since the tragedy, Pennsylvania has approved $350 million in bonds to repair 411 bridges. Road tolls will go up next year.

It would cost $9.4 billion a year for 20 years to eliminate all bridge deficiencies in the USA, according to the latest estimate, made in 2005, by the American Society of Civil Engineers.
A USA TODAY review found that beefed-up inspections since the collapse led 16 states to close bridges, reduce weight limits or make immediate repairs.

Twelve percent of the nation's bridges are structurally deficient, according to the Federal Highway Administration, meaning they are not unsafe but are so deteriorated that they must be closely monitored and inspected or repaired. That percentage has crept down. In 1997, it was 15%.

States are fixing bridges that are in the worst shape, but long-term repairs and upkeep will still suffer unless funding increases, says Kent Harries, a University of Pittsburgh engineering professor.

"We will see more bridge collapses," says Harries, who specializes in bridge engineering.

States are facing cuts in federal funding next year because of a projected $3.2 billion shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund. The gap is expected to grow because Americans are driving less.

NDN has been a longstanding proponent of investing in infrastructure. Fellow Michael Moynihan published a paper on Investing in Our Common Future: U.S. Infrastructure and NDN recently endorsed the Dodd-Hagel Infrastructure Bank.

Lies, Damn Lies, and Polls

If politicians and their pollsters want to look hard enough for a statistic to prove a point, they can find it. The most recent example of this old trick is the offshore drilling debate. Depending who you believe, Democrats are either getting beat badly on the issue, or voters aren’t buying Republican talking points. Let’s take a look at the question from a recent Quinnipiac poll of some battleground states (Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin):

To help solve the energy crisis and make America less dependent on foreign oil, do you support or oppose - Drilling for new oil supplies in currently protected areas off shore?

Unsurprisingly, Quinnipiac reports that:

By margins of 22 to 31 percentage points, voters in each state support offshore oil drilling.

The issue is, as NDN has discussed here, here, here, here, and here, the argument that offshore drilling will help solve the energy crisis and make America less dependent on foreign oil in a meaningful way is a completely untrue. So, if the issue is discussed in a different way, say in a Belden Russonello and Stewart poll released yesterday, one sees a very different answer.

Looking to the future, which one of the following do you think should be a more important priority for government: Investing in new energy technology including renewable fuels and more efficient automobiles; or expanding exploration and drilling for more oil?


Do you think that allowing oil companies to drill in public lands and offshore areas that are currently off limits to drilling will result in lower gas prices for American consumers or not?


Now, there's nothing to say that these two polls are mutually exclusive, but it's very doubtful that voters in Colorado, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin are buying the offshore drilling talking points at a rate that different from the rest of the country. These polls tell us that in order to win on energy, Democrats need to reframe the debate away from drilling versus not. When asked, Americans express a viewpoint sympathetic to Democratic arguments. The moral of this story is that the side that picks the question wins, and there's no such thing as a good answer to a bad question.

Aug. 1 - Assistant Majority Leader Durbin to Deliver Address on Green Economic Opportunities

With rapidly rising energy costs changing the way Americans live and work and global warming threatening even greater harm to our future prosperity and well-being, it is clear that a fundamental change in America’s energy policy is needed. Bold new policies and leadership can turn these twin crises into historic opportunities.

In that spirit, NDN is pleased to announce that on Friday, August 1, Assistant U.S. Senate Majority Leader Dick Durbin will deliver an address on the economic benefits for America in moving from carbon-based fuels to renewable energy sources. Senator Durbin’s remarks will be followed by a panel discussion on "Energy and the American Way of Life." Both events are hosted by the NDN Green Project.

During the panel discussion, energy leaders and experts will discuss how this transition can take place. NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan will also be discussing his new paper entitled, Solar Energy: The Case for Action.

Assistant Majority Leader Durbin will speak at 11:15 a.m. on Friday, August 1, in the Ballroom of the Phoenix Park Hotel, 520 N. Capitol St., NW, in Washington, DC. The panel will follow the senator’s remarks. Lunch will be served. Please click here to RSVP.

NDN’s Green Project is a program of the Globalization Initiative that seeks to develop a legislative, regulatory and advocacy framework to address climate change, enhance energy security, and accelerate the development of green technologies to promote economic growth. Through this initiative, NDN serves as a bridge between key stakeholders such as the new clean technology community and public leaders as we build a post-carbon economy.

For more information on this event, please contact Courtney Markey at cmarkey@ndn.org or 202-384-1214.  We look forward to seeing you Friday, August 1, at 11:15 a.m.

McCain Blames Obama for High Gas Prices

A new ad out today from the McCain campaign seeks to blame Barack Obama for rising gas prices. Take a look at "Pump," and the interesting imagery:

The overall narrative that the McCain camp is trying to pin on Obama through the first half of this ad and its dark imagery is evident: a figure we don’t know much about who is a pop sensation built only on false hopes and making our lives worse. The image of Obama floating in front of spinning gas prices while crowds chant his name is especially pointed.

The ad continues to be over the top by being almost entirely intellectually dishonest. Note the wording of the blame that McCain puts on Obama: "Some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America." The ad uses the word "still" because McCain changed his view on drilling about a month ago, and, even if he had his policy, gas prices would not be any lower.

McCain also tries to have it both ways, as his campaign generally tries to point out Obama’s inexperience, but then goes back and holds Obama responsible for three decades of American energy policy, while giving himself a free pass. In fact, courtesy of Politico's Ben Smith, a recent quote from a McCain speech, that works more as a self-indictment than anything else:

"Let me give you a little bit of straight talk on energy. Our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been thirty years in the making, and was caused by the failure of politicians in Washington to think long term about the future of the country."

McCain looked to be gaining momentum on energy security and offshore drilling, at least as being able to point to a specific plan on energy prices (even an ineffective one). This ad has a desperate feel, and is so easily debunked and ironic, that it seems like McCain has decided to just run against Hope.

EPA: Climate Change Could Ruin DC Summers, Kill People

An article in today's Washington Post is enough to make even the most experienced Washington hands sweat. A new EPA report has concluded that climate change does, in fact, pose grave pubic health risks including, but not limited to, death, destruction, and making summers in Washington D.C. even less bearable. Of course, as Melissa Merz noted last week, the White House has also decided that the EPA will not regulate the very emissions that cause these grave public health risks. Go figure.

From the article by David A. Fahrenthold and Juliet Eilperin:

Climate change will pose "substantial" threats to human health in the coming decades, the Environmental Protection Agency said yesterday -- issuing its warnings about heat waves, hurricanes and pathogens just days after the agency declined to regulate the pollutants blamed for warming.

In a new report, the EPA said "it is very likely" that more people will die during extremely hot periods in future years -- and that the elderly, the poor and those in inner cities will be most at risk.

Other possible dangers include more powerful hurricanes, shrinking supplies of fresh water in the West, and the increased spread of diseases contracted through food and water, the agency said.

The strong warnings highlighted the contorted position that the EPA has staked out on climate change. Last week, the agency decided not to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, at least not until after President Bush's term ends.

A former EPA official told a House panel this week that senior administration officials and several Cabinet members supported regulating the emissions before the White House changed course and barred the EPA from concluding that they endanger public welfare.

The most surprising part of this report is that the White House actually let it get released – unlike other climate reports earlier in the administration. So, just as the government informs itself (and, surprisingly, the public) that it should be doing something about this tremendous risk to the future of humanity, we learn that President Bush will not, so as to maintain his legacy.

[Former EPA deputy associate administrator Jason K. Burnett] also told the panel that senior EPA officials met with representatives from Exxon Mobil, the American Petroleum Institute, and the National Petrochemicals and Refiners Association, who argued that Bush should not undermine his legacy by regulating greenhouse gases.

This is quite the legacy that President Bush is preserving while the climate changes, ignoring reports of the EPA and a Supreme Court ruling (not to mention common sense and broad scientific consensus). Last time I checked, the vast majority of Americans were not huge fans of the President’s legacy. Perhaps he should use the last few months of his failed presidency to try something (anything) new.

I remember someone who won a lot of votes 8 years ago as having some decent ideas.

To Lead or Not To Lead on Climate Change?

Al Gore delivered a major speech on Climate Change today in Washington, DC detailing his challenge for America to generate “100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.” Said Gore:

We're borrowing money from China to buy oil from the Persian Gulf to burn it in ways that destroy the planet. Every bit of that's got to change.

As Al Gore issues this extremely aggressive challenge that states compellingly the reasons to combat climate change, he prioritizes American leadership on climate and energy. This strategy contrasts strongly with the one discussed by Sen. Richard Lugar and Treasury Sec. Henry Paulson in an op-ed in Monday’s Wall Street Journal.

As our vigorous domestic debate shows, there is disagreement within America about whether we should take strong steps to limit greenhouse gas emissions if fast-growing emitters in the developing world do not make similar commitments. Yet nations such as China and India say that fossil fuels are essential to power their economies, raise living standards and pull millions of their people out of poverty. Expanding the use of clean technologies is one way to address the common challenge of reducing greenhouse gas emissions while transcending the differences here at home and between developed and developing countries.

That is why we support a new multilateral initiative to help finance the deployment of commercially available clean technology to the developing world. This Clean Technology Fund, proposed by President Bush last September, is an important opportunity for which American leadership is vital.

This bridge, of promoting voluntary action on climate change, has already been crossed, and this Clean Technology Fund, contrary to what Lugar and Paulson argue, runs away from actual leadership on this issue. Instead of leading a clean technology revolution, they recommend deploying existing technologies to the developing world and unfairly placing the onus on economies that are attempting to lift millions out of poverty every year.

Instead, as Gore argues, putting a price on carbon (domestically and internationally) is crucial to combating climate change:

Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make.

NDN Globalization Initiative Chair Dr. Robert J. Shapiro’s proposal, which he discussed yesterday at NDN, is in line with Gore’s, and, earlier this month, we heard from Sen. Bingaman on his ten principles for cap and trade legislation.

Moving forward, NDN’s Green Project hopes to hear more about meaningful solutions to climate change. For more on the Green Project’s work on energy and climate, check out our blog.

Thursday - NDN to Host Declan Ganley, Leader in Irish "No" Vote

NDN is hosting a very interesting and unique program tomorrow (Thursday) with Declan Ganley, a key figure in one of the most important debates raging in Europe right now. Here is the note NDN President Simon Rosenberg sent out today:

Please join NDN for a special event tomorrow - a conversation about the future of Europe with Declan Ganley, a leader of the Irish "No" campaign on the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, and one of Europe's most interesting emerging leaders.

Mr. Ganley has been in the news quite a bit this week, mixing it up with French and current EU President Nicolas Sarkozy over the possibility of a second Irish vote on the Lisbon Treaty. President Sarkozy intends to visit Ireland next week to discuss EU and other issues. Mr. Ganley believes that if the Lisbon Treaty comes up for a second vote that it would only suffer an even larger defeat. For more on this discussion, click here.

Space is limited for this event, and will be first come, first serve. We will hear from Mr. Ganley tomorrow, Thursday, July 17, at 12 p.m. at the NDN office, 729 15th St., NW, 1st Floor. Following his remarks, Mr. Ganley will take questions. To RSVP, please click here.

What NDN is Reading This Morning

From Iran to Hispanic politics to the impact of energy on the global economy, take a look at some of the news the NDN community is reading this morning.

NDN in the News

"McCain Revs Up Effort to Woo Hispanic Voters" - Arizona Republic

G-8/Climate Change

"Good Intentions, Vague Promises" - NY Times

"After Applause Dies Down, Global Warming Talks Leave Few Concrete Goals" - NY Times

"Again, A Lunchtime Glimpse of Bush in Chat Mode" - NY Times

Energy Politics

"Obama's Next Pivot?" - WSJ, James Taranto


"The Bad News Economy" - SF Chronicle, Debra Saunders

Energy, Food Prices, and the World Economy

"Gas Prices Spur Drivers to Cut Use to Five-Year Low" - WSJ

"Rising Food Costs Further Pressure World Hunger" - Xinhua

"Oil Prices Threaten Globalization" - Xinhua, Dan Steinbock

"Rising fuel costs take the drive out of the US" - The Times, Gary Duncan

New Tools

"iPhone Calls On Software Developers" - WSJ

"Google's Political Head-Fake" - SF Chronicle, Richard Bennett


"U.S. Warns Iran on Missile Threat" - BBC News

"Why the U.S. Won't Attack Iran" - Asia Times

"Tehran's Definite ‘Maybe'" - David Ignatius, Washington Post


"A Hispanic Population in Decline: Illegal Immigrant Policy Alters Prince William on Many Levels" - Washington Post

Senator Bingaman Delivers Climate Address to NDN

This morning, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered an address on climate change at an NDN Green Project event. The speech laid out his vision for how to address climate change through uniform, workable, flexible and realistic cap and trade legislation that focuses on reducing greenhouse gasses and encouraging investment in the technology necessary to reform our energy system.

In introducing Chairman Bingaman, NDN Green Project Director Michael Moynihan pointed toBingaman the critical need to transition to a post-carbon economy, a challenge driven home to Americans every day by soaring gasoline prices.

Entitled, "Finding the Path Forward on Climate Legislation," the speech was a truly important step in enunciating a view of how to responsibly tackle climate change. As the Senate recovers from the aftermath of the Lieberman-Warner debate and looks forward to the next Congress, full statements of principles from key leaders on climate and energy, such as the one today by Senator Bingaman, will be crucial to stimulating the necessary debate to pass effective legislation.

From Senator Bingaman’s introduction to his remarks:

A little over a month ago, on June 6, the Senate failed to invoke cloture on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. That vote ended any realistic prospect we had of dealing with the problems of climate change in any comprehensive way in this Congress.

From one perspective, the relatively short debate that we had in the Senate on the measure was a disappointment. No substantive amendments were considered or had action taken on them. Despite the tremendous amount of effort put into developing the bill by the sponsors -- Senators Lieberman, Warner, and Boxer – much of the debate was on the generalities of dealing with climate change and not on the specific merits of any particular part of their proposal.

Looked at another way, though, last month’s debate demonstrated an important transition that is underway in Congress. Congress has moved beyond a debate on the science of global climate change. We are now starting a much more difficult debate – one on how best to construct a mandatory regulatory regime to mitigate global climate change.

No one expected that last month’s legislative process would produce a law that would be enacted this year. For one thing, the President issued a statement declaring that he would veto such a law. More importantly, many of us are still trying to master the complexities of this issue, in terms of its multiple effects on the global ecosystem and the global economy, as well as its multiple effects on both the environment and the economy here in the United States.

One thing is clear at this point. Any proposal to seriously address the challenges of responding to climate change will require sustained action -- and a sustained commitment to keep taking increasingly more stringent actions -- over the course of many years.

To approach this issue responsibly, it is important for us to understand two things about the scale of the global challenge of climate change. First, we need to understand the scale of the problem. Second, we need to understand the scale of the system we have -- for producing and using energy -- to change in order to deal with the problem.

We have to keep our eye on both these issues of scale. On the one hand, if we fail to recognize how enormous and urgent the problem of climate change is, we will fail in our responsibility to act sensibly and soon. On the other hand, if we fail to recognize how enormous and difficult a task it is to change our energy system, we may embark on a course of action without making clear from the start the potential sacrifices involved.

As Senator Bingaman notes, the transition to the post-carbon economy will not be simple; the scale of this transformation is vast. By embracing the changes necessary in our energy system as an opportunity to develop a truly competitive and innovative 21st century economy, and by understanding that energy reform is part of any sound economic policy going forward, America can put itself on a path toward sound energy, climate, and economic future.

To view Senator Bingaman’s full remarks, click here.

Energy and Climate Take Center State in Campaign

It's official, energy is now at the very heart of the 2008 Presidential election. While it is unfortunate that it took $4 gas prices, America, all the way to oilman T. Boone Pickens (except, of course, for President Bush), has woken up to a new energy reality. The RNC has responded with "balance," a $3 million ad buy coming on the heels of an ad series from the McCain campaign touting his energy security credentials.


McCain has chosen to make energy security his central issue in this year's campaign. And, while his policies do not match his rhetoric - drilling offshore and suspending the gas tax would do nothing "now" to lower energy prices and would ultimately exacerbate climate change - he has seized what is now the number one issue of the campaign and one of the only issues he has a shot on, running ads in battleground states and forcing Obama to respond. The ad is especially ironic as it features the Republican Party criticizing the Democratic candidate for President for being "just the party line" in a year in which Democrats have a 10 to 15 point party ID advantage.

Obama's response, "New Energy," debunks the RNC/McCain promise of action "now," announces the Obama plan, and actually has some particulars that would make a difference in both energy prices and climate change:

The fact that energy and climate change are at the center of this election, with a sitting President who does not even acknowledge any real need to act on climate change, represents a fundamental shift away from Bush politics and the Bush era. The candidate who wins this election will be the one who shows the American people they best understand it.

Tomorrow morning at 8a.m. in room 325 of the Russell Senate Office Building, NDN will host Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Jeff Bingaman for an address on climate change. This is the first in a series of events this month from the NDN Green Project's effort to understand this new energy and economic era. For more information on this event and to RSVP, click here.

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