Today, too many Americans are out of work. Today, we will send $1 billion overseas to satisfy our appetite for foreign oil, while the Chinese will continue their massive investment in clean energy technology. Today, our nation faces an economic crisis, an energy crisis and a global climate crisis.
The good news is that the solutions to each one of these challenges are intertwined with solutions to the others. Creating a new and robust clean energy economy, using American technology and American innovation, will keep and expand jobs here in America while simultaneously reducing our dependence on foreign energy sources.
Low-carbon fuel production and renewable energy generation are critical, but the scope of the clean energy job revolution goes well beyond energy production. Agriculture, water efficiency and infrastructure, and particularly public transit, all are areas that can have an impact on energy efficiency, climate change, pollution reduction and, of course, creation of high-quality jobs. These sectors are inherently domestic and will help rebuild America’s economy and maintain our strength for generations to come.
How likely is it that the current Congress will address these challenges? First, let’s remind ourselves of where we are: The House of Representatives has already passed a comprehensive energy bill. In the Senate, the Energy and Natural Resources Committee has approved a big part of the bill that relates to energy efficiency, standards and research. The Environment and Public Works Committee, on which I serve, has approved a comprehensive bill. Foreign Relations Chairman John Kerry (D-Mass.) has produced a bill dealing with the international programs. And in December, President Barack Obama went to Copenhagen and — for the first time ever — secured the commitment by all major polluters, including China and India, to reduce emissions within an enforceable framework.
We have a strong and diverse coalition in our corner. Last month, more than 80 U.S. companies called on Obama and Congress to enact comprehensive climate and energy legislation. And that is a good thing for American jobs and American business.
Part of the underlying weakness in the American economy has been our reliance on foreign oil. The billion dollars a day we spend on foreign oil should be invested in American jobs producing clean energy here at home. Energy-efficiency efforts alone can slash our need for imports while employing tens of thousands and saving American consumers millions.
Many of the big pieces are already in place but, as always, getting across the finish line is the hardest challenge. I remain optimistic that we will be successful in passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill that will boost jobs this year.
Among Northeastern states from Maryland and Virginia to Pennsylvania and New York, talk of a clean economy would be incomplete without discussion of the important role the Chesapeake Bay watershed plays in the health of our regional economy and environment. This is our year to finally put the bay restoration program on a path to success with passage of the Chesapeake Clean Water and Ecosystem Restoration Act (S. 1816).
The Chesapeake Bay Program has made enormous contributions over the past 25 years. But it simply doesn’t have the tools and the accountability to get the job done. Everywhere I go there is a strong sentiment to clean up the bay and restore this national treasure.
The bay is not simply an environmental gem; it is also the economic engine of the mid-Atlantic region. Some economists have calculated the overall value of the Chesapeake at more than $1 trillion. Restoring the bay is an economic necessity as well as an environmental need.
In developing this important legislation, we listened carefully to our watershed partners from every state and every walk of life. The result is a robust plan that will put us on a realistic but aggressive path to restoring the bay to a healthy state that can sustain native fish, wildlife, and farmland, and our regional economy.
This is legislation that the watershed states and the District of Columbia want us to enact. It is a bill that has the backing of municipalities that see the extra financial support they could get to deal with urban stormwater pollution. The people who operate our wastewater treatment plants are enthusiastically behind this bill. People who recreate on the bay and the watermen who make their living from the bounty of the bay are strong supporters. The agricultural trading program in the bill has Chesapeake farmers increasingly interested in seeing how the extra conservation practices they undertake can make them money.
I am looking forward to getting this bill passed and signed into law by Obama before the end of the year.
Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) is chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Water and Wildlife.