March 02, 2009

Udall Addresses N.M. Legislature About Jobs, Clean Energy and Health Care

WASHINGTION­-U.S. Senator Tom Udall, D-N.M., today spoke to a joint session of the New Mexico Legislature about plans to address the country's economic crisis, create clean energy jobs and fix America's health care system. Udall has been a leader in the Congress on clean energy and preventive health care. Below are his remarks, as delivered.


"Lt. Governor, thank you very much. I know that you're doing a great job back here. I want to thank you and let you know your daughter is also doing a good job in Washington. I know she's working hard back there.


"President Pro-Tem Jennings if he's here, I want to recognize him. Speaker Lujan, wonderful to see you. Ben Ray is making great first impressions on everybody in Washington. You should know that. He's doing the good work of the state.


"I also want to thank my escort in here. And to all of the distinguished members of the New Mexico Legislature, thank you for inviting me to come share a few thoughts with you here today. I know that you're very busy, and I want to make sure that I make my points and then let you get your work done. Much of the work of addressing our state's economic trouble has fallen to you. I understand the difficulty of your task. And I respect the thoughtfulness and compassion that you bring to it. A number of you have talked to me about how important it is to you that you do your job well in these tough times.


"I speak to you today for the first time as a U.S. Senator for New Mexico. I consider many of you my friends. And I hope that all of you, regardless of party, will see me as your partner."


Economic Crisis


"Given the situation we see around us, you won't be surprised that I want to start by talking about the economy. Good people will disagree about how to fix our economy. But you know something must be done. You know that your constituents are struggling. They are suffering because of failed policies that they had nothing to do with. Some people want us to think that the only people hurting right now are lazy and reckless Americans who borrowed money they could never pay back. But we know better.


"My office was contacted by a man who has run a small business for 20 years providing construction supplies. He has cut his staff twice, and it's really hurt him to do it. But even that was not enough, and he worries that he will be faced with closing his doors. He does not want a handout for himself. But he asked if we could make it just a little easier for Americans to buy homes. For Americans who can afford a home but can't find credit. For middle class families looking to buy a piece of stability.


"My office spoke the other day with a retired woman from Albuquerque who went back to work because she couldn't pay her mortgage. She is working now, but she can't quite make the money for her payments. And she asked me if we could just make it a little bit easier.


"Just a little bit easier.


"We have taken the first step. The housing tax credit in the recovery package won't help speculators. But it will make it just a little easier for families to buy that first home. That, as all of you know, is something very important. And that will make it just a little bit easier for New Mexico builders and for that struggling small business owner.


"As a result, the Recovery Package will create or save 22,000 jobs here in New Mexico.


"And we're doing more. President Obama's housing plan won't help people who took loans they couldn't afford. But it will make it just a little easier for a senior citizen who works hard to protect her house-a woman who needs a small boost to make that next payment and stay in her home. We have the power-you and I have the power-to make things just a little bit easier. We should use that power to get things done.


"We must plan for the future. We cannot solve today's problems without planning for tomorrow. One of the things that I want to talk to you about today is how we focus on planning on the kinds of issues that really make a difference to our constituents here in New Mexico. And I want to talk in particular about two areas here in New Mexico that demand reform-two areas where the private market alone just doesn't work. One is clean energy and the other is healthcare.


Clean Energy Jobs


"And we all know-we all know-we have very tough times in the country in terms of energy. We need to do it all. We need to have a strong domestic oil and gas industry. You all had oil and gas day here at the Legislature. And we in New Mexico know that we're a producer state and they know that in Washington. And John Heaton, you know that nuclear power needs to be part of the mix. It may be a little known fact in New Mexico, but about 30 percent of New Mexico's power comes from over the Palo Verde plant over in Arizona. And we have to invest in innovative technologies.


"But today I'd like to focus on green jobs.


"As you know, Luna County has a double-digit unemployment rate. They were in a recession before this crisis. And, if we don't make fundamental changes, they will be in a recession when this crisis is over for the rest of the country. But Luna County has a massive, untapped potential for solar energy. If they can find a way to sell their sunlight, their future will be secure.


"Rebuilding Luna County's economy-and the economies of communities across our state-is not a matter of spending government money. In fact, if we make smart investments today, we will have more tax revenue in the future to address other challenges. But the private market, on its own, will not solve this problem. America's energy markets do not value Luna's clean electrons like they should. Economists call it market failure, and we have the power to fix it.


"You have already done something to help communities like Luna County by passing a state Renewable Portfolio Standard. Congratulations to you on doing that. Since that legislation passed, two private companies have begun construction in Deming on what will soon be among the largest solar power plants in the world. By 2011, the plant will employ 3-400 workers and produce enough energy to power 240,000 homes. This one plant could employ more than one quarter of the unemployed residents of Luna County.


"Two California companies have paid almost $100,000 for the privilege of searching southwest New Mexico for an appropriate site to build another utility-scale solar power plant. If these companies decide to build another plant, southwest New Mexico will see a massive influx of money and jobs. Senator John Arthur Smith and Representative Dona Irwin-I know you understand how big this could be for your constituents. And I want you to know I understand too.


"But we can do more to help Luna and areas like it. And we have already started. The economic recovery bill provided the largest investment in clean energy and conservation in our nation's history. It included $10 billion to begin building a Smart Grid.


"A Smart Grid would let Luna County start selling its sunlight to Arizona, Colorado and California. Expanding Luna's market for clean electrons is the economic equivalent to sticking a massive oil well under the county's soil. We have the power to turn Luna's most plentiful resource into its most valuable. Why wouldn't we do that?


"The recovery package also includes $5.1 million for New Mexico's State Energy Program to encourage alternative energy and conservation.


"Congress should do something else to help Luna County and places like it. When the New Mexico Legislature passed a state renewable portfolio standard, you created a market for Luna County's energy in Santa Fe and Albuquerque. That action will create thousands of jobs and bring billions in private investment. Now, imagine if the market for Luna's sunlight was even bigger. What if it included not only Santa Fe, but San Francisco? Not just our state, but all of the fast-growing states of the region.


"A national renewable electricity standard would help create this national market for New Mexico's energy. Only two lawmakers have succeeded in passing this plan through the Congress, and I am proud to say that both of them are from New Mexico. Senator Bingaman has been a leading advocate for this proposal in the Senate, where he passed it three times. And last year, I was proud to pass a renewable standard through the House of Representatives. Now is the time to make a renewable standard the law of the land. Senator Bingaman and I are working to make it so.


"And let me be clear: this is not just about Luna County or southwest New Mexico. I would bet that every one of you represents a district that would benefit from smart energy policies. If your district would not get its own solar plant or wind farm, your constituents would find jobs building one or working on one. The workers from those plants will be able to buy food in your restaurants and goods from your stores-so that your small businesses can hire more of your citizens. And-with this plan-everybody you represent will benefit from lower energy costs and higher tax revenues. Everybody will benefit from an energy policy that sends more money to rural New Mexico and less money to Iran and Russia.


"New Mexico is full of the small businesses and big ideas that could thrive with the right policies.


"Senator Clint Harden and Representative Dennis Roch will see the benefits. They have "the world's tallest classroom" at Mesa Lands Community College. It is in a more than 400 foot wind turbine, a place where students get an up-close look at the promise of wind power. Dennis and Clint-with better energy policies, we can make sure that students at Mesa Lands have jobs when they leave the classroom. We have the power to help them. We should use it.


"The five of you-Representatives Jose Campos, Keith Gardner and Dennis Roch; Senators Stuart Ingle and Gay Kernan-who represent Portales will see the benefits. The U.S. Senate is working right now on a bill that will provide $1 million for a plant in Portales that will get energy from algae. It is expected to create 100 jobs. But I want to make sure that those jobs are just the beginning. With the right policies, we can make sure the Portales algae plant can sell its energy anywhere in the region. We have the power to make eastern New Mexico an energy leader. We should use it. This legislature is already considering "green jobs" legislation that would boost training, provide incentives for state businesses and encourage out-of-state businesses to relocate to New Mexico.


"I know how difficult New Mexico's fiscal situation is right now, but during these tough times I want you to remember one thing. New Mexico's future is bright. We are perfectly suited to turn today's challenges into opportunities. As the world sees the impact of global warming, we see demanding sources of energy that do not endanger our collective future. That means that renewable energy won't be an alternative. It will be the standard. New Mexico's sun and wind are the gold and oil of the future-if we start to develop them now.


Health Care


"Another area that we worked to address in the recovery package is health care. And some people even said no to that.


"You see, in Washington, we are having a strange discussion right now. Lawmakers and the Administration are talking about whether we should fix the economy or tackle health care. Meanwhile, the Big Three auto companies are in talks with the UAW to avoid a collapse that could cost America up to 3 million jobs. And the issue that comes up most often in those discussions is health care.


"The problem that brought our car companies to this point is all about health care. And the single biggest threat to our long-term economic outlook-that is health care as well. Health care alone adds as much as $1,400 to the cost of each car produced in the United States. Because America spends almost twice as much on health care as most other industrialized nations, companies from other countries start with a significant competitive advantage over our companies. So, we can't simply solve America's economic problems and then deal with our health care problems later. As long as we have a health care problem, we're going to have an economic problem. To fix our economy, we have to tackle health care.


"This Congress has already taken steps to address this problem. We recently passed legislation to provide New Mexico with $196 million for children's health care. This is a 277 percent increase in funding, the biggest increase for any state. This legislation will protect health insurance for 6.7 million American children and extend coverage to an additional 4.1 million.


"The recovery package will also help New Mexico provide health care. It provided $630 million to help New Mexico pay its Medicaid costs. We recognized that if New Mexico can't afford Medicaid-and the state has to cut kids off from healthcare-our health professional are going to lose money. Our hospitals are going to lose money. That is bad for every business in the health care sector-and it's bad for our economy.


"This kind of aid to states is essential. You are forced to balance your budget. When tough times hit, you have to start firing people. You have to start slowing down programs. Or you have to raise taxes-just at the point when state services are most needed and tax hikes will hurt the most. And we know that both these actions-tax increases and spending cuts-tend to make economic recessions worse.


"Without a recovery package, you would be forced to act like Herbert Hoover-taking actions that cut consumption and prolong our economic problems. The economic recovery package also provided $19 billion to modernize our health care system. This will save us money and keep us healthier. It's a step in the right direction. But to protect our economy and our citizens in the long-term, we need fundamental health care reform.


"New Mexico has already taken an important step towards universal coverage. You made a commitment to covering every child. And you had begun to fund that commitment when the fiscal situation began to deteriorate. You have led while the federal government lagged.


"It is time for Congress to provide leadership. We need to ensure that every American has access to care. I look forward to working with President Obama to get this done.


Working Together to Fix New Mexico's Economy


"Now before I close, I just want to make one thing clear. We sometimes talk about the economic recovery package as if it will achieve its goals without help from anybody outside Washington. That's simply not true.


"The recovery package is a partnership with state and local agencies across the country. And it is a partnership with all of you. You know what your communities need. You know your families need help and which businesses will produce jobs. You know the schools that have been waiting for resources to tackle tough projects. And I know you feel the urgency that this crisis demands. I want to work with you to make sure this recovery package does what it needs to do. The stakes could not be higher.


"Good luck with the work you must complete during this session. Your work is very difficult. But sometimes the jobs that are the most difficult are the most worth doing. If you succeed, you will have made a real difference with your constituents and all the citizens of our state.


"And I truly want to thank you from my heart. Thank you for your service to our great state of New Mexico. Thank you very much. It's been an honor to be with you today."