Washington, D.C. - Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote speech at the Regional Plan Association luncheon in New York City today. Below are her remarks as prepared:
“Congressman Earl Blumenauer is a leader in the tradition of our Founding Fathers. They were disrupters of the status quo in a time that demanded change. Congressman Blumenauer is a magnificent disrupter today in an era that calls upon us again to reject old ways of thinking.
“In our nation's history books, he will be found among the innovative thinkers who helped to keep America strong by investing in our future.
“I would also like to acknowledge Judith Rodin and her leadership of the Rockefeller Foundation. Over the last 95 years, the Rockefeller Foundation helped to eradicate disease by developing the yellow fever vaccine… alleviate poverty by modernizing agriculture to feed millions of starving people…it established still-thriving arts and education institutions across the country. Today, the Rockefeller Foundation has lent its power to no less significant a cause: rebuilding and renewing America.
“One of our nation's experts in this regard is Bob Yaro. Bob - thank you for your leadership on urban livability and your advocacy on the challenges our mega-regions face.
“I am honored to be here today to offer my view from the Capitol on rebuilding and renewing America.
“There is no group that better understands we need to think in new and innovative ways about these issues than the Regional Plan Association.
“In 1929, the Regional Plan Association produced the first long-range, comprehensive, region-wide, metropolitan plan. 40 years later, your second plan helped rein in sprawl, revitalize rail, and rebuild parks. Today, another 40 years later, we are grateful for your continued leadership on how we shape our nation.
“With your energy, ingenuity, and foresight you join in the great tradition of our founders.
“As you all know, it was two hundred years ago this month when Albert Gallatin, Secretary of the Treasury under President Thomas Jefferson, submitted his plan to Congress to develop the infrastructure of America.
“Our nation was growing, but it was also still a young experiment in democracy. Our population was sparse, and after decades of war, so was our national treasury.
'These realities did not deter Secretary Gallatin. In fact, they inspired him. For America to be great, he believed it needed to invest in its future strength.
“The Erie Canal, the transcontinental railway, and the Cumberland Road stand today as legacies of Albert Gallatin's vision.
“In financing this infrastructure, Gallatin had the great foresight to see that the long-term benefit of these investments far outweighed the costs. Because of that, public capital, and not just private resources were necessary.
“As he said, roads and canals to unite our young nation could not ‘be left to individual exertion.'
“Today, again, we stand at a crossroads with another opportunity to unite our nation.
“Today, again, we must seize opportunities for innovation and progress.
“Today, again, in the tradition begun in the earliest days of our nation, I am pleased to join you in issuing a challenge to rebuild and renew America.
“In doing so, we face two opportunities: to invest in our nation's infrastructure, and to reverse climate change. We must do both. We can and must do both at the same time.
“In Congress, it is our responsibility to protect the American people, grow our economy and create good paying jobs, strengthen America's families, and preserve our planet and promote energy independence.
“All of these can be accomplished through rebuilding our infrastructure.
“You know best about this litany of ills facing our nation: deficient bridges, overcrowded subway and bus systems, crumbling and congested roads - a quality of life issue, insufficient maintenance of the electricity grid - plummeting millions into darkness in 2003, aging pipelines - all too familiar to New Yorkers dealing with steam pipe and water main breaks, and of course, the most devastating of all - the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina.
“But in this list of challenges is an opportunity to think in new and different ways. These challenges are opportunities to strengthen our nation.
“Rebuilding America is a national security issue. 90% of our oil imports are used for transportation. With investments in public transportation, more efficient roadways, and a broadband backbone that removes commuters from roads, we can reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce its implications on our foreign policy.
“Rebuilding America is an economic issue. By improving our efficiency, we improve our competitiveness and create the next generation of good-paying jobs.
“Rebuilding America is an equality issue. Earlier this month, when I held an Infrastructure Forum in the Capitol, Darren Walker of the Rockefeller Foundation spoke eloquently to us about transportation as a matter of basic fairness. As he said, the civil rights movement in America was sparked by one brave woman, and one public bus. Transportation is the road to opportunity.
“Rebuilding America is an environmental issue. Making greener choices will bring us cleaner air and water, reduce sprawl and congestion, and cut greenhouse gases, to the benefit of the American people and our planet.
“Preserving our planet for future generations is our most urgent challenge.
“That is why my flagship issue as Speaker of the House is energy independence and reducing global warming. As we renew and rebuild America, at every step of the way we must also combat climate change.
“Last year, Congress took major steps to reduce global warming pollution, passing sweeping legislation to increase vehicle fuel efficiency to 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. Because of this achievement, the reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2020 alone will be the equivalent of taking 28 million of today's cars and trucks off the road. Our legislation also made dramatic strides in the efficiency standards for buildings and infrastructure across our nation.
“We took action to promote biofuels, and to increase fuel efficiency. Now we must address total ‘vehicle miles traveled' which are growing at 2.5 times the rate of population growth. Our infrastructure choices will help determine whether people can choose alternatives to driving their cars.
“In Congress, we are leading by example with a ‘Green the Capitol' initiative that will make our complex a model of green infrastructure and environmental stewardship.
“Soon, we will be carbon neutral in operating the Capitol. Then we will relight the Dome of the Capitol, that magnificent symbol of freedom and democracy, with energy-efficient lighting. May it light the way to a green and sustainable future.
“To create that future, we know we must invest in infrastructure. We also know we must do it now.
“The question is, how do we pay for it? How do we proceed in a fiscally sound way?
“One idea being considered is an infrastructure development bank to promote public and private investment in projects of regional and national significance. The bank would be an independent federal entity that would evaluate major infrastructure proposals and finance the best of them using a variety of financial tools.
“For example, the bank could have the authority to issue bonds with maturities of up to 50 years. The benefits of infrastructure projects are long-term, and we need financial tools that will align financing with the benefits of the investments. Long-term investment opportunities could draw additional funding sources into infrastructure, such as pension funds.
“We must also consider whether we need a capital budget, not just an operating budget. Corporations and states have them, but the federal government does not. This would give us a means of differentiating between short-term expenditures and longer-term national investments.
“The task we face is so large that it demands the involvement of every level of government and the private sector.
“States, local communities, and the federal government are finding new ways to work together - new public-public partnerships that will strengthen our efforts at every level of government. In my state of California, the voters--fed up with congestion--approved $20 billion dollars in transportation infrastructure bonds to build on existing public funding sources. Public agencies are also finding ways to harness the knowledge and ingenuity of their own workers to increase their efficiency and save public dollars.
“Private investment is playing an increasingly larger role in public infrastructure. Innovative public-private partnerships are appearing around the country, bringing much-needed capital to the table. It is important to ensure that the public interest is well-served in public-private partnerships, since they are here to stay and likely to grow in importance.
“User fees will continue to play a major role in financing many types of infrastructure. Reliance on tolls for transportation funding is likely to continue and expand; our challenge will be to ensure that tolls are equitable, that they reduce congestion for everyone, and the revenues are used to improve infrastructure, not siphoned off for other purposes.
“This is an area where it is especially necessary to show people that their money will be spent wisely, and their lives will be better as a result.
“With the economy slowing down and job losses accelerating, we must also look for opportunities to take advantage of the stimulative effect of investing in infrastructure.
“In conversations with the White House, leaders in Congress have placed a number of proposals on the table, including funding for infrastructure projects - clean water, passenger rail, transit, highways - where dirt will fly and people will be put to work that simply lack the funds to begin now.
“We will explore these options in addition to all the regular order transportation and appropriations bills which give us built-in opportunities to be innovative and creative.
“Right now, both the House and Senate are at work on legislation that has the greatest potential to address climate change yet: a cap-and-trade system, which will not only limit emissions, but also generate revenue through the sale of greenhouse gas permits. Some of these revenues could be used for public transit or other infrastructure that further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“In order to renew and rebuild our nation, we need to engage the public in our 21st century vision.
“Once again, Congressman Blumenauer is leading the way, with legislation for a new national commission that would involve the public, members of Congress, and stakeholders all around the country to determine our priorities and look at all the dimensions of this challenge together.
“Congressman Jim Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was also born to lead on these issues. He is deeply committed to rebuilding America, and doing it a sustainable, climate-friendly way.
“Today's conversation has to take place in communities across the nation. Congress cannot be successful unless localities develop greater awareness and consensus around what communities need and how these investments are made.
“For this, we are grateful to the Rockefeller Foundation and all of you for your work.
“It is appropriate that the theme of this conference is ‘Oil and Water: Adapting to Scarcity.'
“In the 21st century, we will face scarcity of any number of resources.
“But in this room, there is no scarcity of ingenuity, no scarcity of urgency, and no scarcity of commitment.
“When the history is written of our work to rebuild and renew America, because of your example of thinking entrepreneurially, acting regionally, and for succeeding in preserving the entire planet, the contribution of the Regional Plan Association will be writ large.
“As Speaker of the House, but more importantly, as a grandmother of seven, I come here today to thank you for your leadership.”