The National Corridors Initiative, Inc.
Destination:Freedom

A Weekly North American Transportation Update

For transportation advocates and professionals, journalists,
and elected or appointed officials at all levels of government

Publisher: James P. RePass      E-Zine Editor: Molly McKay
Foreign Editor: David Beale      Webmaster: Dennis Kirkpatrick

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July 21, 2008
Vol. 9 No. 30

Copyright © 2008
NCI Inc., All Rights Reserved

Home Page: www.nationalcorridors.org

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IN THIS EDITION...   In This Edition...

  News Items…
Big Dig’s Red Ink Engulfs State
Cahill Calls for Turnpike Overhaul Says Bailout Plan
   Must Include Changes
London - The World’s Most Expensive City To Park A Car
  Environmental Lines…
Nevada Rebuffed In Its Request To Reject Nuclear Transport
   Application
  Commuter Lines…
Milestone For Tunnel Linking Lirr, Grand Central
 
  Selected Rail Stocks…
  Freight Lines…
Railroad Antitrust Bill Stirs Controversy
  Across The Pond…
News Blackout On Air France / KLM Talks With Rail Operator Veolia?
  Guest Editorial…
A Generational Challenge To Repower America
  Publication Notes …


NEWS OF THE WEEK... News Items...

Big Dig’s Red Ink Engulfs State

By DF Staff

BOSTON, JULY 17 -- Bostonians woke up to a shocking headline last Thursday when the Boston Globe revealed that the new total for the Big Dig had spiraled to $22 billion. It was bad enough when state officials announced the figure of $15 billion when the project was finally finished three years ago.

“Now, three years after the official dedication of the Central Artery/Third Harbor Tunnel, the state is reeling under a legacy of debt left by the massive project. In all, the project will cost an additional $7 billion in interest, bringing the total to a staggering $22 billion, according to a Globe review of hundreds of pages of state documents. It will not be paid off until 2038,” wrote Sean Murphy in his article on July 17.

“Contrary to the popular belief that this was a project heavily subsidized by the federal government,” the story continues, “73 percent of construction costs were paid by Massachusetts drivers and taxpayers.”

During the heaviest construction periods, Massachusetts’ annual payments for the project were $600 million or more, and now it appears that approximately this same amount will continue annually until the debt is paid.

Background:

Boston’s Big Dig has been called the “largest, most complex highway construction project ever undertaken in the history of this country.” According to Dan McNichol’s book The Big Dig, “it is bigger in scale than the Panama Canal or Hoover Dam and more complex in its planning, engineering, and construction than the two combined.” Its mission was to reconstruct two sections of interstate highway running through the heart of the city, reconnecting them by a new tunnel and dismantling the “Green Monster,” the rusting, dangerous and confusing elevated highway that bisected the city and cut it off from its historic waterfront.

The elevated highway, a hulking 40 feet high, 200 feet wide, and 3.7 miles long called the Central Artery, became a steel wall, cutting off Boston from its historical waterfront and harbor. During its construction in the 1950’s, it caused so much destruction in the poor Italian and Chinese neighborhoods of the North End, many families and business leaders fought to have it moved toward the waterfront and away from the neighborhoods. 1000 residential and commercial structures were demolished and 20,000 residences and business displaced. But the fights were to no avail. The ugly monster was built as planned, and everyone hated it.

Almost as soon as it was completed, it was so horribly congested and so ugly, talks began among officials about what to do to add capacity. The 3.7 mile roadway had 34 off- and on-ramps totaling 4.3 miles of ramps -- a lethal combination resulting in more congestion than any other highway in the country. One idea was to build another level of highway above it, which would have raised the level to 80 feet.

The idea of dismantling the highway and putting a tunnel underneath was first suggested in the 1970’s by Bill Reynolds, a contractor who repaired and expanded highways around Boston. Reynolds was convinced that the only solution to the “Green Monster” was to get rid of it and put the traffic underground. Fred Salvucci, who eventually became “the man behind the Big Dig,” was transportation consultant to Mayor Kevin White of Bostoin at the time. Salvucci felt it was a crazy idea, but the more he thought about it, the more he couldn’t get it out of his mind.

Years went by as the idea percolated and politicians gradually solicited their support, which by now Salvucci was steadily seeking. In 1987, the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act, which included funding for the Big Dig, passed the House and Senate. President Reagan vetoed the bill, criticizing it as one of the biggest “pork” bills he had ever seen. The House overrode the veto but the Senate sustained it by one vote, that of Senator Terry Sanford from North Carolina. Senator Edward Kennedy, with the help of his ally W. VA Senator Robert Byrd, obtained a re-vote. In a classic example of strong-arm, power politics, Senator Kennedy and others threatened to pull tobacco subsidies from North Carolina if Senator Sanford did not change his vote and support the bill. He did.

Reagan’s veto was overridden. It was April of 1987. The Central Artery/Tunnel Project had its federal funding.

The mission of this enormous project was to relieve the inner city’s nightmarish traffic problems and greatly improve aesthetics and livability of the city. 200 acres of new parks would be added and Boston’s beautiful skyline would be transformed. More specifically, a 100-acre city dump, 44 acres of an industrial corridor and 27 acres of prime, downtown real estate under the decrepit, elevated highway would be converted from urban blight to desirable open spaces and parks. Another purpose of the Big Dig was to complete the I-90 (Massachusetts Turnpike) connection to Logan Airport.

The challenges of the project have been staggering: tunneling through unstable man-made land for one (70% of the city’s land is man-made). It’s dubbed “historical fill” and is made up of anything that 17th century residents could find to use as fill. Sometimes, the hulls of buried ships, filled with rocks and surrounded by earth, were used as fill. “This weak, wet, unpredictable material is possibly the most difficult substance to build a superhighway tunnel through.” [The Big Dig, p. 18]

The “Rat Scare” was another crisis. Bostonians were frightened by rumors that the numbers of rats that would be unearthed from the digging would exceed the human population. These fears were allayed by a senior environmental biologist, whose specialty was rats. This “ratalogist” stayed on the job for the first ten years of construction to manage the rodent control program.

Another major problem was locating a disposal site for the polluted harbor floors, which, contaminated by centuries of ship traffic, were soaked with oils and grease and other hazardous materials.

A myriad of construction and environmental challenges which plagued and slowed down the project over the years can be found in McNichol’s book The Big Dig.

What Massachusetts faces today

As the project dragged on and costs spiraled, the federal government pulled back support, which at first had been substantial in the 1987 law. In the beginning, taxpayers were told the federal government would pay 90% of the project, but as costs continued to go up, the federal agency said the Big Dig was no longer eligible to receive that percentage of support.

Thus, as the Globe stated, 73% of this huge project has fallen on the pocketbooks of the Massachusetts taxpayer.

Now the Commonwealth is grappling with how to handle the huge debt from the Big Dig project while also taking care of much needed repairs and maintenance of the existing infrastructure. In order to maintain deteriorating roads and bridges the state has been forced to float more highway bonds, thereby going deeper in debt.

While most states spend on average 6% of their transportation budget on debt payments, Massachusetts now spends 38%.

Cuts in transit budgets have forced closings and reduced service at a time when demand for expanded service is surging because of high gasoline prices.

Another financial burden is that the state has been borrowing 80 percent of its pay for highway workers, and the heavy costs of debt pushed the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, which manages the Big Dig, to the brink of insolvency, according to the Globe story.

“Our concern 20 years ago when the Big Dig was proposed was that it would consume all the money for other projects necessary to Massachusetts’ future,” said Jim RePass, President of the National Corridors Initiative, “and that is obviously what has happened.”

So far, the answer adopted by Governor Deval Patrick and his administration is a familiar one: Borrow more money to meet current transportation needs. The administration has gained legislative approval for $5 billion in new borrowing for transportation projects and is asking for $4 billion more in a plan to get the state’s 3,000 bridges into top condition over the next eight years.

“The Big Dig saddled us with costs we can’t afford,” said Bernard Cohen, Secretary of Transportation. “We are grappling with that legacy now. There are no easy answers.”

Asked why the state doesn’t raise taxes to help pay for its burgeoning costs, Cohen said no such course was necessary. “We will manage these borrowings within the income stream we have today,” Cohen said. “Raising taxes is not on the table.”

Former state representative John Businger warns not to give up on moving forward with the projects that Massachusetts needs for its economic future. “Obviously this is a serious issue but it must not stand in the way of building a better future for our region. We must not punish ourselves with such a negative attitude that nothing gets done.”

Role of Mass Pike Authority

The Massachusetts Turnpike Authority was brought in to oversee the Big Dig construction in 1996 as part of a financial rescue plan, borrowed $1.8 billion, but will have to pay back almost $5 billion, including interest. Its borrowing was so expensive because it was financed over 40 years, twice as long as the vast majority of government debt, with no principal due for the first 10 years.

With highway workers being paid mostly from borrowed money and the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority on the brink of insolvency, it is unable to keep up with its share of the state’s debt payments and is in desperate need of a bailout. Alan LeBovidge, the turnpike’s new executive director, estimates a yawning deficit next year in the authority’s operating budget, $70 to $100 million.

“There is a funding gap,” said LeBovidge. “It’s a large number, and I don’t have a magic wand.”

There is talk of raising tolls again, (they were raised last year) but one turnpike board member, Mary Z. Connaughton, feels it’s unfair to burden toll-payers with extra costs when others get a free ride.

The main issue everyone is avoiding is raising taxes. No one wants to be the one to do that.

Cohen said eliminating consulting contracts, reducing senior staff, and curtailing overtime at the turnpike have contributed to $14 million in savings in the last year. But more is needed, said Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation. It simply avoids the nasty reality by borrowing deeper and longer into the future, he said.

“They are not addressing the situation, they are just shifting billions of dollars of debt to future generations,” Widmer said.

“Nobody wants to be the one to increase taxes,” he said. “But without taxes, it means the next generation will face a deep hole.”


Return to index
Cahill Calls for Turnpike Overhaul
Says Bailout Plan Must Include Changes

BOSTON, JULY 18 – The Globe reported last Friday that State Treasurer Timothy P. Cahill doesn’t want the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority to get something for nothing. He insists that if the Turnpike Authority is handed a life line by the administration’s decision to guarantee their debt, changes MUST be required.

The Turnpike Authority was brought in to oversee the Big Dig construction in 1996 as part of a financial rescue plan. It borrowed $1.8 billion, which will, in the end, cost $5 billion including interest. The time span for the loan, 40 years with no principal due for the first 10 years, which is twice as long as the vast majority of government debt, is the main reason the debt is so expensive. As noted in the above article, the Authority is unable to keep up with its debt payments and is in desperate need of a bailout.

“To bail out the Turnpike and not change anything about the operation, not put in any reforms, I don’t think the public - and rightfully so - would stand for that,” Cahill said after the hearing.

But he did not specify what changes should be implemented.

The proposal on the table is for the state to serve as cosigner for $2.4 billion of the Turnpike Authority debt. That would help the authority, which is a quasi-public agency dependent on toll revenues, to take advantage of the state’s strong credit rating to refinance loans. If the plan fails, the authority could owe millions in new interest, as well as a roughly $200 million penalty payment to investment bankers.

The Patrick administration feels that the guarantee is a risk-free move for the state and is the only option that will save the Authority from insolvency.

Lt Governor Tim Murray criticized Cahill, according to the Globe story, saying that he should have acted earlier to protect the authority’s financial health.

The House has already approved the plan, but the state Senate President Therese Murray has some concerns about the proposal and wants it debated in the Senate. Senator Steven C. Panagiotakos, chairman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, also has concerns and wants time to give it careful consideration.

Other Senators feel strongly opposed to the bailout but have not come up with an alternative plan. They are worried about the long-term Big Dig debt and its effects on the state.

Michael Widmer, president of the Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation, feels the plan is irresponsible. “We are just heading off a cliff, Thelma and Louise, with a smile on our face.”

Widmer calls for a gas-tax increase and new tolls to help the Turnpike Authority meet the terms of its Big Dig-related debts.

Alan LeBovidge, executive director of the Turnpike Authority, said he had heard no viable alternatives to the state guarantee plan.

The bailout’s proponents said that the guarantee of the turnpike’s debt would be unlikely to affect the state’s credit rating. Even Cahill has acknowledged that it may not hurt the state’s rating.

“No one has to bear these costs,” said Jay Gonzalez, state undersecretary for administration and finance. “Even with the guarantee, there is no expectation that the Commonwealth would have to pay any of the Turnpike Authority’s loans.”

It was a contentious hearing which ended without a resolution while the Senate takes more time to review the administration’s plan.


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London - The World’s Most Expensive City To Park A Car

From Reuters on the Internet

As if high gas prices weren’t enough, now motorists are stuck with the premium charges for parking --- but not everywhere!

London tops the list as the world’s most expensive city to park your car, according to a survey by Colliers International conducted in June 2007.

In London’s financial district, it costs on average $68.07 a day, or $1,166.87 a month to park your car, while parking in the popular West End entertainment district cost $1,135.76 month. Sydney, Australia, came in second, with parking costing $774.76 a month, closely followed by Hong Kong at $742.40 a month. Perth, also in Australia, was fourth at $610.42 a month.

In the United States, New York City’s Midtown was the priciest place to park at $585 a month, followed by the city’s Downtown at $462 a month.

“We continue to observe a direct correlation between the rising cost of monthly parking and the ongoing strength of the office real estate market,” said Ross Moore, director of market and economic research at Colliers International.

The Colliers survey tracked 64 downtown areas in the United States and Canada and 74 cities in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and Latin America.

In Europe, Stockholm was the second most expensive place to park after London ($508.92 a month) while Santiago, Chile was Latin America’s priciest place at $200 a month.

In the Middle East and Africa, Tel Aviv, Israel and the Gulf city of Dubai were tied at the top spot with monthly parking costing $198.48. Cape Town, South Africa, came in second at $137.77 a month.

The cheapest place to park is Jakarta, the car-clogged capital of Indonesia, where monthly parking costs a mere $26.07.


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Photo: Reuters / Luke MacGregor  

Taxis queue in rush hour traffic in London August 23, 2006.

ENVIRONMENTAL LINES... Environmental Lines...

Nevada Rebuffed In Its Request To Reject Nuclear Transport Application

JULY 16 -- The Surface Transportation Board this month turned down a request by Nevada to deny a U.S. Department of Energy application to build a rail line for carrying nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, about 90 miles north of Las Vegas.

The 300-mile Caliente Line would link a nuclear waste repository under the mountain to an existing rail line near Caliente, Nev. The line also would operate through and near the towns of Tonopah, Goldfield, Beatty and Amargosa Valley.

The plan to carry high-level radioactive waste from the nation’s nuclear power plants to Yucca Mountain has been preceded by 20-years of environmental and engineering studies and protests, particularly in Nevada.

The Energy Department submitted its application to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission on June 3 for a license to build the rail line and nuclear waste storage facility.

Contact: Dennis Watson, STB, (202) 565-1596.


Return to index
COMMUTER LINES... Commuter Lines...

Milestone For Tunnel Linking Lirr, Grand Central

From the Internet

One hundred forty feet below Grand Central Terminal, in a muddy, slippery tunnel filled with mind-boggling machinery, workers labor to build the line that will connect the Long Island Railroad to Grand Central by 2015.

In this dark and dank place, the $7.2 billion project recently reached a milestone when one of two 600-ton-plus tunnel boring machines reached a spot about 150 feet below Park Avenue and 48th Street. The next step will be to blast out space for a massive LIRR concourse underneath the Grand Central Terminal.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

This tunnel boring machine used at Yucca Mountain is similar to the one used for the LIRR bore.

Last Thursday, members of the media donned hard hats and orange vests for the trek down 16 flights of stairs that began around the corner from a vacant lot at East 63rd Street and Second Avenue, the place where the first machine began its journey in October.

They joined workers in heavy rubber boots walking through puddles and muck to get to the small construction train that carries them to and from the $10 million, Italian-made boring machine.

Working conditions are anything but comfortable. Hoisting themselves up in the dark into the small train, workers sit on long metal benches and must endure piercing blasts which warn other workers of the train’s approach.

On this train, there are no padded seats, automated announcements or conductors.

At the end of the tunnel, they step on a 360-foot-long machine that edges forward like an inchworm, using 45 steel blades to cut through an average of 50 feet of granite each day.

A second, similar machine, which is coming from the other direction, will catch up in about a month.

The new tunnels connect to two tunnels below the East River used by the F train that will link to the LIRR in Queens.

Joe Trainer, chief engineer for MTA Capital Construction, is proud to be working on a job that will change thousands of commuters’ lives.

“Working in the tunnel is not for the faint of heart,” he said, “but this is what we love, and to think we can do it right here in Manhattan in your hometown is wonderful.”

Once the project is completed, the LIRR is expected to run up to 24 trains in and out of Grand Central during peak hours.


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STOCKS...  Selected Rail Stocks...

Source: www.MarketWatch.com

   This
Week
Previous
Week
Burlington Northern & Santa Fe(BNI)94.595.45
Canadian National (CNI)51.147.15
Canadian Pacific (CP)67.563.34
CSX (CSX)60.860.62
Florida East Coast (FLA)62.562.51
Genessee & Wyoming (GWR)39.4835.79
Kansas City Southern (KSU)46.4843.88
Norfolk Southern (NSC)63.4261.78
Providence & Worcester (PWX)18.9918.85
Union Pacific (UNP)72.5471.92


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FREIGHT LINES... Freight Lines...

Railroad Antitrust Bill Stirs Controversy

From Progressive Railroading

Four big freight railroads control more than 90% of freight rail traffic in the United States, according to Bob Szabo, who is executive director of Consumers United For Rail Equity (CURE).

A coalition of thirteen organizations representing rail shippers, state regulators, farmers and consumers have banded together in an effort to end railroads’ antitrust law exemptions.

A bill now in Congress, the Railroad Antitrust Enforcement Act (H.R. 1650/S. 772) would permit the U.S. Justice Department and Federal Trade Commission to review railroad mergers under antitrust law for the purpose of eliminating antitrust exemptions for mergers, collective rate-making and coordination among railroads.

The legislation would allow state attorneys general and private parties to bring lawsuits for treble damages.

The coalition, whose members are listed below, is urging Congress to pass this law. “We’re all together ... speaking with one voice to call on Congress to protect American consumers from the hidden tax of freight rail overcharges,” said Szabo.

Not all railroad officials agree. The Association of American Railroads and other officials believe this legislation might undo agreements, decisions and rulings that are currently in effect and would hamper railroads’ ability to expand capacity. If that were the case, more freight would move back to the highways, they believe.

Members of the coalition: Consumer Federation of America; National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners; National Association of State Utility Consumer Advocates; National Rural Electric Cooperative Association; American Corn Growers Association; Consumers United For Rail Equity (CURE); Western Coal Traffic League; Edison Electric Institute; Alliance for Rural America; American Agriculture Movement Inc.; American Chemistry Council; American Forest & Paper Association; and American Public Power Association.


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ACROSS THE POND... Across The Pond...

From David Beale
Nci Foreign Correspondent

News Blackout On Air France / KLM Talks With Rail Operator Veolia?

Airline Conglomerate in Discussions with Veolia For New High Speed Rail Services

AMSTERDAM – Since several news services first reported two weeks ago that Europe’s largest airline, Air France – KLM, was in discussions with the utility and transit services provider Veolia to establish a network of high-speed rail connections in Europe, additional details have yet to be announced. The two Paris-based companies have been reported to be in negotiations over a plan which would envision Veolia taking over a number of short haul flights from the airline and replacing them with high speed trains. The targeted region for this concept was reported to be much of France, plus Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland and western Germany.

The airline’s Air France subsidiary already has a cooperation agreements with the French state-owned railroad SNCF as well as Thalys to provide high speed rail connections for its passengers ‘flying’ to Brussels, Lille, Lyon and other destinations from its Paris hub with high speed trains rather than aircraft. The airline’s Dutch branch, KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, is a partner in the company HSA (High Speed Alliance), which is starting high speed passenger rail services on the newly built Brussels – Antwerp – Rotterdam – Amsterdam high speed rail corridor.

Veolia (formerly known as Connex) is a Paris-based international operator of utility services and local rail and bus transit systems with operations in France, U.K., Germany, Holland, the USA, Australia, and a number of other countries. Currently Veolia’s rail transportation activities have been limited to commuter trains and independent rail freight operations.

With mandatory carbon off-set regulations and new taxes on jet fuel in the works for all European airlines, a number of airlines are looking very closely at the growing European high speed rail network as both a way to expand their European route structure and to reduce their dependence on increasingly expensive kerosene as their prime energy source. Lufthansa German Airlines and Continental Airlines have airline code-share agreements in place with Deutsche Bahn / German Railways and Amtrak respectively.


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GUEST EDITORIAL... Guest Editorial...

A Generational Challenge To Repower America

By Al Gore

There are times in the history of our nation when our very way of life depends upon dispelling illusions and awakening to the challenge of a present danger. In such moments, we are called upon to move quickly and boldly to shake off complacency, throw aside old habits and rise, clear-eyed and alert, to the necessity of big changes. Those who, for whatever reason, refuse to do their part must either be persuaded to join the effort or asked to step aside. This is such a moment. The survival of the United States of America as we know it is at risk. And even more - if more should be required - the future of human civilization is at stake.

I don’t remember a time in our country when so many things seemed to be going so wrong simultaneously. Our economy is in terrible shape and getting worse, gasoline prices are increasing dramatically, and so are electricity rates. Jobs are being outsourced. Home mortgages are in trouble. Banks, automobile companies and other institutions we depend upon are under growing pressure. Distinguished senior business leaders are telling us that this is just the beginning unless we find the courage to make some major changes quickly.

The climate crisis, in particular, is getting a lot worse - much more quickly than predicted. Scientists with access to data from Navy submarines traversing underneath the North polar ice cap have warned that there is now a 75 percent chance that within five years the entire ice cap will completely disappear during the summer months. This will further increase the melting pressure on Greenland. According to experts, the Jakobshavn glacier, one of Greenland’s largest, is moving at a faster rate than ever before, losing 20 million tons of ice every day, equivalent to the amount of water used every year by the residents of New York City.

Two major studies from military intelligence experts have warned our leaders about the dangerous national security implications of the climate crisis, including the possibility of hundreds of millions of climate refugees destabilizing nations around the world.

Just two days ago, 27 senior statesmen and retired military leaders warned of the national security threat from an “energy tsunami” that would be triggered by a loss of our access to foreign oil. Meanwhile, the war in Iraq continues, and now the war in Afghanistan appears to be getting worse.

And by the way, our weather sure is getting strange, isn’t it? There seem to be more tornadoes than in living memory, longer droughts, bigger downpours and record floods. Unprecedented fires are burning in California and elsewhere in the American West. Higher temperatures lead to drier vegetation that makes kindling for mega-fires of the kind that have been raging in Canada, Greece, Russia, China, South America, Australia and Africa. Scientists in the Department of Geophysics and Planetary Science at Tel Aviv University tell us that for every one degree increase in temperature, lightning strikes will go up another 10 percent. And it is lightning, after all, that is principally responsible for igniting the conflagration in California today.

Like a lot of people, it seems to me that all these problems are bigger than any of the solutions that have thus far been proposed for them, and that’s been worrying me.

I’m convinced that one reason we’ve seemed paralyzed in the face of these crises is our tendency to offer old solutions to each crisis separately - without taking the others into account. And these outdated proposals have not only been ineffective - they almost always make the other crises even worse.

Yet when we look at all three of these seemingly intractable challenges at the same time, we can see the common thread running through them, deeply ironic in its simplicity: our dangerous over-reliance on carbon-based fuels is at the core of all three of these challenges - the economic, environmental and national security crises.

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.

But if we grab hold of that common thread and pull it hard, all of these complex problems begin to unravel and we will find that we’re holding the answer to all of them right in our hand.

The answer is to end our reliance on carbon-based fuels.

In my search for genuinely effective answers to the climate crisis, I have held a series of “solutions summits” with engineers, scientists, and CEOs. In those discussions, one thing has become abundantly clear: when you connect the dots, it turns out that the real solutions to the climate crisis are the very same measures needed to renew our economy and escape the trap of ever-rising energy prices. Moreover, they are also the very same solutions we need to guarantee our national security without having to go to war in the Persian Gulf.

What if we could use fuels that are not expensive, don’t cause pollution and are abundantly available right here at home?

We have such fuels. Scientists have confirmed that enough solar energy falls on the surface of the earth every 40 minutes to meet 100 percent of the entire world’s energy needs for a full year. Tapping just a small portion of this solar energy could provide all of the electricity America uses.

And enough wind power blows through the Midwest corridor every day to also meet 100 percent of US electricity demand. Geothermal energy, similarly, is capable of providing enormous supplies of electricity for America.

The quickest, cheapest and best way to start using all this renewable energy is in the production of electricity. In fact, we can start right now using solar power, wind power and geothermal power to make electricity for our homes and businesses.

But to make this exciting potential a reality, and truly solve our nation’s problems, we need a new start.

That’s why I’m proposing today a strategic initiative designed to free us from the crises that are holding us down and to regain control of our own destiny. It’s not the only thing we need to do. But this strategic challenge is the lynchpin of a bold new strategy needed to re-power America.

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

This goal is achievable, affordable and transformative. It represents a challenge to all Americans - in every walk of life: to our political leaders, entrepreneurs, innovators, engineers, and to every citizen.

A few years ago, it would not have been possible to issue such a challenge. But here’s what’s changed: the sharp cost reductions now beginning to take place in solar, wind, and geothermal power - coupled with the recent dramatic price increases for oil and coal - have radically changed the economics of energy.

When I first went to Congress 32 years ago, I listened to experts testify that if oil ever got to $35 a barrel, then renewable sources of energy would become competitive. Well, today, the price of oil is over $135 per barrel. And sure enough, billions of dollars of new investment are flowing into the development of concentrated solar thermal, photovoltaics, windmills, geothermal plants, and a variety of ingenious new ways to improve our efficiency and conserve presently wasted energy.

And as the demand for renewable energy grows, the costs will continue to fall. Let me give you one revealing example: the price of the specialized silicon used to make solar cells was recently as high as $300 per kilogram. But the newest contracts have prices as low as $50 a kilogram.

You know, the same thing happened with computer chips - also made out of silicon. The price paid for the same performance came down by 50 percent every 18 months - year after year, and that’s what’s happened for 40 years in a row.

To those who argue that we do not yet have the technology to accomplish these results with renewable energy: I ask them to come with me to meet the entrepreneurs who will drive this revolution. I’ve seen what they are doing and I have no doubt that we can meet this challenge.

To those who say the costs are still too high: I ask them to consider whether the costs of oil and coal will ever stop increasing if we keep relying on quickly depleting energy sources to feed a rapidly growing demand all around the world. When demand for oil and coal increases, their price goes up. When demand for solar cells increases, the price often comes down.

When we send money to foreign countries to buy nearly 70 percent of the oil we use every day, they build new skyscrapers and we lose jobs. When we spend that money building solar arrays and windmills, we build competitive industries and gain jobs here at home.

Of course there are those who will tell us this can’t be done. Some of the voices we hear are the defenders of the status quo - the ones with a vested interest in perpetuating the current system, no matter how high a price the rest of us will have to pay. But even those who reap the profits of the carbon age have to recognize the inevitability of its demise. As one OPEC oil minister observed, “The Stone Age didn’t end because of a shortage of stones.”

To those who say 10 years is not enough time, I respectfully ask them to consider what the world’s scientists are telling us about the risks we face if we don’t act in 10 years. The leading experts predict that we have less than 10 years to make dramatic changes in our global warming pollution lest we lose our ability to ever recover from this environmental crisis. When the use of oil and coal goes up, pollution goes up. When the use of solar, wind and geothermal increases, pollution comes down.

To those who say the challenge is not politically viable: I suggest they go before the American people and try to defend the status quo. Then bear witness to the people’s appetite for change.

I for one do not believe our country can withstand 10 more years of the status quo. Our families cannot stand 10 more years of gas price increases. Our workers cannot stand 10 more years of job losses and outsourcing of factories. Our economy cannot stand 10 more years of sending $2 billion every 24 hours to foreign countries for oil. And our soldiers and their families cannot take another 10 years of repeated troop deployments to dangerous regions that just happen to have large oil supplies.

What could we do instead for the next 10 years? What should we do during the next 10 years? Some of our greatest accomplishments as a nation have resulted from commitments to reach a goal that fell well beyond the next election: the Marshall Plan, Social Security, the interstate highway system. But a political promise to do something 40 years from now is universally ignored because everyone knows that it’s meaningless. Ten years is about the maximum time that we as a nation can hold a steady aim and hit our target.

When President John F. Kennedy challenged our nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely in 10 years, many people doubted we could accomplish that goal. But 8 years and 2 months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the surface of the moon.

To be sure, reaching the goal of 100 percent renewable and truly clean electricity within 10 years will require us to overcome many obstacles. At present, for example, we do not have a unified national grid that is sufficiently advanced to link the areas where the sun shines and the wind blows to the cities in the East and the West that need the electricity. Our national electric grid is critical infrastructure, as vital to the health and security of our economy as our highways and telecommunication networks. Today, our grids are antiquated, fragile, and vulnerable to cascading failure. Power outages and defects in the current grid system cost US businesses more than $120 billion dollars a year. It has to be upgraded anyway.

We could further increase the value and efficiency of a Unified National Grid by helping our struggling auto giants switch to the manufacture of plug-in electric cars. An electric vehicle fleet would sharply reduce the cost of driving a car, reduce pollution, and increase the flexibility of our electricity grid.

At the same time, of course, we need to greatly improve our commitment to efficiency and conservation. That’s the best investment we can make.

America’s transition to renewable energy sources must also include adequate provisions to assist those Americans who would unfairly face hardship. For example, we must recognize those who have toiled in dangerous conditions to bring us our present energy supply. We should guarantee good jobs in the fresh air and sunshine for any coal miner displaced by impacts on the coal industry. Every single one of them.

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.

In order to foster international cooperation, it is also essential that the United States rejoin the global community and lead efforts to secure an international treaty at Copenhagen in December of next year that includes a cap on CO2 emissions and a global partnership that recognizes the necessity of addressing the threats of extreme poverty and disease as part of the world’s agenda for solving the climate crisis.

Of course the greatest obstacle to meeting the challenge of 100 percent renewable electricity in 10 years may be the deep dysfunction of our politics and our self-governing system as it exists today. In recent years, our politics has tended toward incremental proposals made up of small policies designed to avoid offending special interests, alternating with occasional baby steps in the right direction. Our democracy has become sclerotic at a time when these crises require boldness.

It is only a truly dysfunctional system that would buy into the perverse logic that the short-term answer to high gasoline prices is drilling for more oil ten years from now.

Am I the only one who finds it strange that our government so often adopts a so-called solution that has absolutely nothing to do with the problem it is supposed to address? When people rightly complain about higher gasoline prices, we propose to give more money to the oil companies and pretend that they’re going to bring gasoline prices down. It will do nothing of the sort, and everyone knows it. If we keep going back to the same policies that have never ever worked in the past and have served only to produce the highest gasoline prices in history alongside the greatest oil company profits in history, nobody should be surprised if we get the same result over and over again. But the Congress may be poised to move in that direction anyway because some of them are being stampeded by lobbyists for special interests that know how to make the system work for them instead of the American people.

If you want to know the truth about gasoline prices, here it is: the exploding demand for oil, especially in places like China, is overwhelming the rate of new discoveries by so much that oil prices are almost certain to continue upward over time no matter what the oil companies promise. And politicians cannot bring gasoline prices down in the short term.

However, there actually is one extremely effective way to bring the costs of driving a car way down within a few short years. The way to bring gas prices down is to end our dependence on oil and use the renewable sources that can give us the equivalent of $1 per gallon gasoline.

Many Americans have begun to wonder whether or not we’ve simply lost our appetite for bold policy solutions. And folks who claim to know how our system works these days have told us we might as well forget about our political system doing anything bold, especially if it is contrary to the wishes of special interests. And I’ve got to admit, that sure seems to be the way things have been going. But I’ve begun to hear different voices in this country from people who are not only tired of baby steps and special interest politics, but are hungry for a new, different and bold approach.

We are on the eve of a presidential election. We are in the midst of an international climate treaty process that will conclude its work before the end of the first year of the new president’s term. It is a great error to say that the United States must wait for others to join us in this matter. In fact, we must move first, because that is the key to getting others to follow; and because moving first is in our own national interest.

So I ask you to join with me to call on every candidate, at every level, to accept this challenge - for America to be running on 100 percent zero-carbon electricity in 10 years. It’s time for us to move beyond empty rhetoric. We need to act now.

This is a generational moment. A moment when we decide our own path and our collective fate. I’m asking you - each of you - to join me and build this future. Please join the WE campaign at wecansolveit.org. We need you. And we need you now. We’re committed to changing not just light bulbs, but laws. And laws will only change with leadership.

On July 16, 1969, the United States of America was finally ready to meet President Kennedy’s challenge of landing Americans on the moon. I will never forget standing beside my father a few miles from the launch site, waiting for the giant Saturn 5 rocket to lift Apollo 11 into the sky. I was a young man, 21 years old, who had graduated from college a month before and was enlisting in the United States Army three weeks later.

I will never forget the inspiration of those minutes. The power and the vibration of the giant rocket’s engines shook my entire body. As I watched the rocket rise, slowly at first and then with great speed, the sound was deafening. We craned our necks to follow its path until we were looking straight up into the air. And then four days later, I watched along with hundreds of millions of others around the world as Neil Armstrong took one small step to the surface of the moon and changed the history of the human race.


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