Some people seem to think we have to choose between having a cleaner, stronger environment and having a robust, growing economy. I disagree. It is possible to pursue policies that protect our environment and public health, while helping jumpstart new industries that can create jobs and help grow our economy. By advocating a multi-faceted and common-sense approach to our nation’s environmental and energy challenges, we can reduce harmful pollutants, lead healthier lives, lower our energy costs, and help put Americans to work manufacturing new products and technologies stamped "Made in the U.S.A." to sell here and export around the world.
We need to take action now to move this country toward a clean energy future, not just for the sake of our environment, but also for the strength of our economy. Our dependence on fossil fuels has tremendous costs for American families and businesses. By pursuing clean and green energy, U.S. businesses and manufacturers can reduce energy costs, be more competitive, and create tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of new jobs in the process.
As former chairman, and current ranking member, of the Senate Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety, I have advocated for tougher clean air laws and stronger oversight of U.S. nuclear power plants and worked to combat climate change, which stands as one of the greatest environmental challenges of the 21st century.
Delaware is, unfortunately, located at the end of what I call "America's tailpipe." Other states' dirty emissions from cars and power plants drift east, causing pollution that Delaware cannot regulate. This dirty air negatively impacts the health of Delawareans. For example, there are approximately 18,000 asthmatic children living in areas of poor air quality in the First State. To ensure all states clean up their dirty air, I have worked to protect and defend the Clean Air Act and the ability of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to pursue clean air initiatives and regulate the amount of harmful carbon dioxide emissions. The Clean Air Act and the EPA's efforts to limit harmful pollutants have repeatedly shown huge returns for the public's investment in terms of lives saved, reduced health care costs, and clean energy jobs.
In addition to protecting the Clean Air Act and the EPA, I have also been very active in the effort to clean up old, dirty diesel engines. Diesel emissions from sources such as old school buses are linked to 21,000 premature deaths, millions of lost work days, and numerous other negative health impacts every year. To address this issue, I co-authored the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act, which the President signed into law in January 2011.
For more information on my efforts in Congress to protect clean air and strengthen public health, click here.
Climate change is one of the biggest challenges our nation – and our world – faces. The science in support of climate change is sound, and we need to act to address the threat it poses to our economy, our environment, and public health and safety. For too long, many in Congress and across the country denied the overwhelming consensus of science that global warming was real and that man's activities were contributing to it. Fortunately, much of that has changed today. The first step toward solving a problem is admitting you have one. I am encouraged by President Obama's willingness to bring climate change back to the forefront of our national debate, and I look forward to working in Congress to not only mitigate its dangerous effects but also address its root causes. Severe weather events like Superstorm Sandy, as well as raging wildfires, droughts, tornadoes and floods across the country, provide stark reminders that we cannot stand idly by while climate change poses serious and costly threats.
In order to achieve energy security and protect public health, I believe this country has to invest in clean energy sources, including nuclear energy. Done responsibly, nuclear power can help curb our reliance on foreign oil and reduce air pollution that damages our environment and causes climate change. Each year, our current nuclear fleet prevents more than 500 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from entering the air compared to if coal plants had been used for power instead.
As ranking member of the Senate Subcommittee that oversees nuclear safety, I am responsible for providing oversight of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) and our nation's civilian nuclear operations to ensure they are protecting the public’s health and safety in addition to supplying energy. Over the years, I have worked with the NRC to create a "culture of safety" within the U.S. nuclear energy industry. Despite all the protections in place, the Fukushima crisis in Japan was a clear warning that we must not become complacent when it comes to nuclear safety. I will continue to work with my colleagues on the subcommittee to hold congressional oversight hearings to ensure that we have a strong, robust and safe nuclear industry.
I am a founder and co-chair of the Senate Recycling Caucus. Recycling is a priority of mine because it is one of the most visible and respected ways every American family and business can contribute to our environmental sustainability efforts. Recycling significantly diminishes the energy needed to manufacture products, reduces greenhouse gas emissions, and also helps create jobs.
Protecting Delaware's Wetlands
With Delaware playing a vital role in coastal ecology – serving as a rest stop for millions of migrating birds – I have been a long supporter of wetland conservation. As governor, I enacted the Inland Bays Watershed Enhancement Act, which established a center to restore and protect the three interconnected bodies of water in southeastern Delaware. I will continue to support wetland conservation in the Senate in the coming years.
I am a firm believer in the promise of offshore wind power. The development of offshore wind means reliable energy, good paying American jobs, and independence from fuels that pollute our air and drain our economy. According to the University of Delaware, the wind off our Atlantic Coast has the potential of generating 330 Giga-watts of power. That is enough clean power to support all of the energy needs of our coastal states from Maine to North Carolina, with enough power left over to support future energy demands and replace about 300 dirty, large coal plants. However, the ideal offshore winds are often found in federal waters – requiring federal permits and other logistical complications that can add years to the construction timeline. That is why I have worked closely with the Obama Administration and my colleagues in the Senate to lower some of the hurdles the industry faces to ensure offshore wind can be successful in this country and that the government is providing the right framework to foster this new industry.
For example, I have worked to provide critical financial incentives for the investment in offshore wind energy. The long-investment time, infancy of the industry, and higher initial costs of offshore wind make it unique from onshore wind. Investors need a quicker return on such a long-term investment, which is why the investment tax credit is advantageous for offshore wind projects and the production tax credit is not. At the end of last Congress, I worked with my colleagues to pass a retroactive extension of the Investment Tax Credit for wind projects – including offshore wind – that started construction last year. However, if the United States wants real investment in offshore wind, a long-term extension of the investment tax credit for offshore wind is needed. Tax certainty for the first offshore wind movers will not only spur investments in many projects all along our coasts, it will also likely reduce costs for future projects and for consumers. Last Congress I introduced the Incentivizing Offshore Wind Power Act that provides the offshore wind industry with enhanced tax stability by extending the investment tax credits for the first 3,000 MW of offshore wind facilities placed into service – which is an estimate of 600 wind turbines.
I have also worked closely with the Department of Interior to create a common sense permitting process that protects our environment, while also not deterring new offshore wind projects in federal waters. I was proud to see that Delaware’s own Bluewater Wind project was awarded the first lease under Department of Interior's "Smart from the Start" wind energy initiative for the Atlantic Outer Continental Shelf. I am hopeful that, with this lease and with the offshore wind tax incentives, we can find investors that will be willing to partner with Delaware and other coastal states to pursue this promising source of offshore wind energy.