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With new (green) hope, Barack Obama visits old Newton, Iowa -- text

April 22, 2009 |  5:18 pm
The patient Maytag Man whose washing machines were so good he never got any service calls

Barack Obama returned to Iowa today.

No, not for that again already. Caucus preparations are still weeks away.

The president flew all the way out to midcountry in his large airplane to the Hawkeye State to talk about saving the environment and developing green energy, which a 747 isn't. But who would ever point out such an inconsistent, inconvenient truth unless it involved evil automobile chief executives in their private jets?

Anyway, Obama went to Newton. Ring a bell? Newton, Iowa? Onetime headquarters home of Maytag, a famous American thing that they don't manufacture there anymore. Nor in Searcy, Ark. Nor in Herrin, Ill. Which made even Maytag women unemployed.

Ever since 2006, one more thing that's clearly Bush's fault. No, better yet, Bush-Cheney, Obama's evil cousin. Eight long years. All that.

So here below is what the country's new chief executive said there about the good news he sees developing now in Newton. And hopefully elsewhere. We have a video excerpt down there too.

-- Andrew Malcolm

Speaking of good news, click here to get automatic Twitter alerts of each new Ticket item or follow us   @latimestot     (Bonus trivia question: What's the actor's name who played this involuntarily idled Maytag repairman?)

Remarks by President Obama at Clean Energy at Trinity Structural Towers, Newton, Iowa, April 22, 2009

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you so much. Thank you, Rich, for the great introduction. Thank you very much. Please, everybody have a seat. (UPDATE: The prepared speech opening has been edited to reflect the additional remarks the president inserted.)

It is good to be back in Newton, and it's a privilege to be here at Trinity Structural Towers.  I've got a couple of special thank-yous that I want to make, because I've got a lot of old friends -- not old in years, but been friends for a long time now. 

First of all, your outstanding governor, Chet Culver, please give him a big round of applause.  (Applause.)  His wonderful wife, Mari, I see over here.  She's not on the card, but -- (applause.)  My outstanding secretary of Agriculture, who I plucked from Iowa, Tom Vilsack and his wonderful wife, Christie Vilsack.  (Applause.) 

We've got the attorney general of Iowa, one of my co-chairs when I ran in the Iowa caucus and nobody could pronounce my name -- Tom Miller.  (Applause.)  My other co-chair, Mike Fitzgerald, treasurer of Iowa.  (Applause.)  We got the Iowa secretary of state, Mike Mauro.  There he is.  (Applause.)  We've got your outstanding member of Congress who's working hard for Newton all the time, Leonard Boswell.  (Applause.)  And your own pride of Newton, Mayor Chaz Allen.  (Applause.)  There he is, back there.  It's good to see you again, Chaz.  

It is terrific to be here -- and by the way, I've got a whole bunch of folks here who were active in the campaign, and precinct captains.  And I just want to thank all of them for showing up, and to all the great workers who are here at this plant -- thank you.  (Applause.)

I just had a terrific tour of the facility led by several of the workers and managers who operate this plant.  It wasn't too long ago, as Rich said, that Maytag closed its operations in Newton.  And hundreds of jobs were lost. These floors were dark and silent.  The only signs of a once-thriving enterprise were the cement markings where the equipment had been before they were boxed up and carted away.

Today, this facility is alive again with new industry. This community continues to struggle, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to be rehired, but more than 100 people will now be....

...employed at this plant, many the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors.

Now you’re using the materials behind me to build towers to support some of the most advanced wind turbines in the world. When completed, these structures will hold aloft blades that can generate as much as 2.5 megawatts of electricity – enough energy to power hundreds of homes.

At Trinity, you are helping to lead the next energy revolution. And you are heirs to the last energy revolution.

Roughly a century and a half ago, in the late 1850s, the Seneca Oil Co. hired an unemployed train conductor named Edwin Drake to investigate the oil springs of Titusville, Pa. Around this time, oil was literally bubbling up from the ground – but it had limited economic value and often did little more than ruin crops and pollute drinking water.

Even as some were refining oil for use as a fuel, collecting oil remained time-consuming, back-breaking, and costly, as workers harvested what they could find in the shallow ground. But Edwin Drake had a plan. He purchased a steam engine, built a derrick, and began to drill.

Months passed. Progress was slow. The team managed to drill into the bedrock just a few feet each day. Crowds gathered to mock the hopeful, foolish diggers. The well even earned the nickname, “Drake’s Folly.” But Drake wouldn’t give up. He had an advantage: total desperation.

It just had to work. Then, finally, it did.

One morning, the team returned to the creek to see crude oil rising up from beneath the surface.  Soon, Drake’s well was producing a then-astonishing amount of oil – perhaps 10, 20 barrels each day. Speculators followed, building similar rigs as far as the eye could see.  In the next decade, the area would produce tens of millions of barrels of oil. And as the industry grew, so too did the ingenuity of those who sought to profit from it, as competitors developed new techniques to drill and transport oil to drive down costs and gain an edge in the marketplace.

Our history is filled with such stories. The stories of daring talent, of dedication to an idea even if the odds were great, of the unshakable belief that in America, all things are possible.

This has been especially true in energy production. From the first commercially-viable steamboat developed by Robert Fulton to the first modern solar cell developed at Bell Labs; from the experiments of Benjamin Franklin to harness the energy of lightning to the experiments of Enrico Fermi to harness the power contained in the atom, America has led the world in producing and harnessing new forms of energy.

But just as we have led the global economy by developing new sources of energy, we have also led in global consumption of that energy. While we make up less than 5% of the world’s population, we produce roughly a quarter of the world’s demand for oil.

This appetite comes at a tremendous cost to our economy. It’s the cost as measured by our trade deficit; 20% of what we spend on imports is the price of our oil imports, as we send billions of dollars overseas to oil-exporting nations. It’s the cost of our vulnerability to the volatility of oil markets. It’s the cost we feel in shifting weather patterns that are already causing record-breaking droughts, unprecedented wildfires, and more intense storms.

And it is a cost we have known ever since the gas shortages of the 1970s. Yet, for more than 30 years, all too little has been done. There’s a lot of talk of action when oil prices are high, but then it slips from the radar when oil prices fall. We shift from shock to indifference time and again, year after year.

We cannot afford to do that anymore – not when the cost for our economy, for our country, and for our planet is so high.  On this Earth Day, it is time for us to lay a new foundation for economic growth by beginning a new era of energy exploration in America.

The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy – it’s a choice between prosperity and decline.  We can remain the world’s leading importer of oil, or we can become the world’s leading exporter of clean energy. We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects. We can hand over the jobs of the 21st century to our competitors – or we can confront what countries in Europe and Asia have already recognized as both a challenge and an opportunity: The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy.

America can be that nation. America must be that nation. And while we seek new forms of fuel to power our homes and cars and businesses, we will rely on the same ingenuity – the same American spirit – that has always been a part of our American story.

This will not be easy, and there are no silver bullets.  It will take a variety of energy sources, pursued through a variety of policies, to drastically reduce our dependence on oil and fossil fuels. As I’ve often said, in the short-term, as we transition to renewable energy, we can and should increase our domestic production of oil and natural gas. We also need to find safer ways to use nuclear power and store nuclear waste.

But the bulk of our efforts must focus on unleashing a new, clean energy economy that will begin to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, cut our carbon pollution by about 80% by 2050, and create millions of new jobs right here in America. 

My administration has already taken unprecedented action toward this goal.   

This work begins with the simplest, fastest, most effective way we have to make our economy cleaner, and that is to make our economy more energy efficient. California has shown it can be done; while electricity consumption grew 50% in this country over the last three decades, in California, it remained flat.

Through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, we have begun to modernize 75% of all federal building space, which has the potential to reduce long-term energy costs by billions of dollars on behalf of taxpayers. We are providing grants to states to help weatherize hundreds of thousands of homes, which will save the families that benefit about $350 each year. That’s like a $350 tax cut.

Consumers are also eligible as part of the Recovery Act for up to $1,500 in tax credits to purchase more efficient cooling and heating systems, insulation, and windows in order to reduce their energy bills.

And I’ve issued a memorandum to the Department of Energy to implement more aggressive efficiency standards for common household appliances, like dishwashers and refrigerators. Through this step, over the next three decades, we’ll save twice the amount of energy produced by all the coal-fired power plants in America in any given year.

We are already seeing reports from across the country of how this is beginning to create jobs, as local governments and businesses rush to hire folks to do the work of building and installing these energy efficient products.

And these steps wills spur job creation and innovation as more Americans make purchases that place a premium on reducing energy consumption. Businesses across the country will join the competition, developing new products and seeking new customers.

In the end, the sum total of choices made by consumers and companies in response to our recovery plan will mean less pollution in our air and water, reduced costs for families and businesses, and lower reliance on fossil fuels which disrupt our environment and endanger our children’s future.

Energy efficiency, however, can only take us part way. Even as we are conserving energy, we need to change the way we produce energy.

Today, America produces less than 3% of our electricity through renewable sources like wind and solar. Meanwhile, Denmark produces almost 20% of their electricity through wind. We pioneered solar technology, but we've fallen behind countries like Germany and Japan in generating it.

I don’t accept that this is the way it has to be.  When it comes to renewable energy, I don’t think we have to be followers; I think it’s time for us to lead.

We are now poised to do exactly that. According to some estimates, last year, 40% of all new generating capacity in our country came from wind. In Iowa, you know what this means. This state is second only to Texas in installed wind capacity, which more than doubled last year alone. The result? Once shuttered factories are whirring back to life here at Trinity; at TPI Composites where more than 300 workers are manufacturing turbine blades; and elsewhere in this state and across America.

In 2000, energy technology represented just one-half of 1% of all venture capital investments. Today, it’s more than 10%.

The recovery plan seeks to build on this progress, and encourage even faster growth. We are providing incentives to double our nation’s capacity to generate renewable energy over the next few years – extending the production tax credit, providing loan guarantees, and offering grants to spur investment in new sources of renewable fuel and electricity.

My budget also invests $15 billion each year for 10 years to develop clean energy including wind power, solar power, geothermal energy, and clean coal technology.

And today I am announcing that my administration is taking another historic step. Through the Department of Interior, we are establishing a program to authorize – for the first time – the leasing of federal waters for projects to generate electricity from wind as well as from ocean currents and other renewable sources.

This will open the door to major investments in offshore clean energy.  For example, there is enormous interest in wind projects off the coasts of New Jersey and Delaware and today’s announcement will enable these projects to move forward.

It is estimated that if we fully pursue our potential for wind energy on land and offshore, wind can generate as much as 20% of our electricity by 2030, creating as many as 250,000 jobs in the process. As with so many clean-energy investments, it’s win-win: good for environment and great for our economy.

An old Maytag Washer Chieftain model

Yet, even as we pursue renewable energy from the wind and the sun and other sources, we also need a smarter, stronger electricity grid to carry that energy from one end of this country to the other. That’s why we are making an $11-billion investment through the recovery plan to modernize the way we distribute electricity.

And as we’re taking unprecedented steps to save energy and generate new kinds of energy for our homes and businesses, we need to do the same for our cars and trucks.

Right now, two of America’s iconic automakers are considering their future and facing difficult challenges. But one thing we know is that for automakers to succeed in the future, these companies need to build the cars of the future. Yet, for decades, fuel economy – and fuel economy standards – have stagnated, leaving American consumers vulnerable to the ebb and flow of gas prices, and leaving the American economy ever more dependent on the supply of foreign oil.

We must create the incentives for companies to develop the next generation of clean energy vehicles – and for Americans to drive them.

That is why my administration has begun to put in place higher fuel economy standards for the first time since the mid-1980s – so our cars will get better mileage, saving drivers money and spurring companies to develop more innovative products. The recovery act also includes $2 billion in competitive grants to develop the next generation of batteries for plug-in hybrid cars.

We’re planning to buy 17,600 American-made, fuel-efficient cars and trucks for the government fleet. And today, Vice President Biden is announcing a Clean Cities grant program through the Recovery Act to help state and local governments purchase clean energy vehicles, too.

My budget also makes unprecedented investments in mass transit, high-speed rail, and in our highway system to reduce the congestion that wastes money, time, and energy. And it invests in advanced biofuels and ethanol, which, as I’ve said, is an important transitional fuel to help us end our dependence on foreign oil while moving toward clean, homegrown sources of energy.

And while we are creating the incentives for companies to develop these technologies – we are also creating incentives for consumers to adopt these technologies. The Recovery Act includes a new tax credit of up to $7,500 to encourage Americans to buy more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

In addition, innovation depends on innovators doing the research and testing the ideas that might not pay off in the short run – or at all – but when taken together hold incredible potential over the long term. That is why my Recovery plan includes the largest investment in basic research funding in American history. And my budget includes a 10-year commitment to making the Research and Experimentation Tax Credit permanent – a tax credit that returns two dollars to the economy for every dollar we spend.

And this is only the beginning.

My administration will be pursuing comprehensive legislation to move toward energy independence and prevent the worst consequences of climate change – while creating the incentives to make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America.

The fact is, we place limits on pollutants like sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and other harmful emissions. But we haven’t placed any limits on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is called the carbon loophole.

Last week, in response to the U.S. Supreme Court, the EPA determined that carbon dioxide and other tailpipe emissions are harmful to the health and well-being of our people. There is no question that we have to regulate carbon pollution; the only question is how we do so.

I believe the best approach is through legislation that places a market-based cap on these kinds of emissions. Today key members of my administration are testifying in Congress on a bill that seeks to enact exactly this kind of market-based approach. My hope is that this will be the vehicle through which we put this policy in effect.

Here’s how a market-based cap would work:

We would set a cap on all of the carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases that our economy is allowed to produce in total, combining the emissions from cars and trucks, coal-fired power plants, energy-intensive industries, and other sources.

By setting a cap, carbon pollution would become like a commodity. It would have a value as a limited resource. To determine that value, much like any other traded commodity, we’d create a market where companies could buy and sell the right to produce a certain amount. In this way, a company can determine for itself whether it makes sense to spend the money to become cleaner or more efficient, or to spend the money on a certain amount of allowable pollution.

Over time, as the cap on greenhouse gases is lowered, the commodity would become scarcer – and the price would go up. Year by year, companies and consumers would have greater incentive to invest in clean energy and energy efficiency, as the price of the status quo became more expensive.

By closing the carbon loophole through this kind of market-based cap, we can address in a systematic way all the facets of the energy crisis: lowering our dependence on foreign oil, reducing our use of fossil fuels, and promoting new industries right here in America.

And as we pursue solutions through the public and private sectors, we also need to remember that every American has a role to play. You know, when I suggested during the campaign that one small step Americans could take would be to keep their tires inflated, it became political fodder for the other side. 

But I do not accept the conventional wisdom that suggests that the American people are unable or unwilling to participate in a national effort to transform the way we use energy – that the only thing folks are capable of doing is paying their taxes. I disagree. The American people are ready to be part of this mission.

For example, if each of us replaced just one ordinary incandescent light bulb with one compact fluorescent, that could save enough energy to light 3 million homes. And that’s just one small step.

Finally, this is a global problem, and it will require a global coalition to solve it. Our climate knows no boundaries; the decisions of any nation will affect every nation. Next week, I will be gathering leaders of major economies from around the world to talk about how we can work together to address this energy crisis.

It is true that the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process. But those days are now over. We are ready to engage – and we are asking other nations to join us in tackling this challenge together, including those nations that have not been quick to act.

All of the steps we have taken in just these first three months represent perhaps more progress than we have achieved in three decades. We are beginning the difficult work of reducing our dependence on foreign oil. We are beginning to break the bonds of fossil fuels. We are beginning to create a new, clean energy economy – and the millions of jobs that will flow from it.

Yes, there are those who still cling to the notion that we ought to continue on the current course. That government has neither the responsibility nor the reason to address our dependence on energy sources that undermine our security, threaten our economy, and endanger our planet.

But there is also a far more dangerous idea – the idea that there is little or nothing we can do. That our politics are broken, our people unwilling to make hard choices.

Implicit in this argument is that somehow we have lost something important. That perhaps as a result of the very prosperity we have built over the course of generations, we have given up that fighting American spirit, that sense of optimism, that willingness to tackle tough challenges – and the determination to see those challenges to their end.

 I reject this argument. I reject it because of what you are doing right here at Trinity. I reject it because of what I have seen across this country, in the eyes of the people I’ve met, in the stories I’ve heard, in the factories I’ve visited, in the places where I’ve seen the future being pieced together – test by test, trial by trial.

Will it be easy? Of course not. There will be bumps along the road. There will be costs for our nation – and for each of us as individuals. There is no perfect answer to our energy needs – and all of us will have to use energy more wisely. But I know that we are ready and able to meet these challenges. All of us are the beneficiaries of a daring and innovative past. I am confident that we can be – that we will be – the benefactors of a brighter future.

That can be our legacy. A legacy of vehicles powered by clean renewable energy traveling past newly opened factories; of burgeoning industries employing millions of Americans in the work of protecting our planet; of an economy exporting the energy of the future – instead of importing the energy of the past; of a nation once again leading the world to meet the challenges of our time.

Thank you, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.   ###

Photos: Maytag (the iconic Maytag repairman who never had much to do because his machines were so well-made); Maytag (a Maytag Chieftain model).

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