San Francisco - On Sunday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi delivered the keynote address at the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) rail conference in San Francisco. Below are her remarks as prepared:
“Thank you, Nat [Ford]. Nat does an excellent job leading the SFMTA in managing San Francisco's ground transportation system, which includes our transit system, Muni, one of the oldest and greenest transit systems in the United States. Under his tenure, San Francisco has opened a new light rail line and established the largest municipal bio-diesel fleet in the nation, with bio-diesel fuel now utilized in all Muni's diesel fleet vehicles.
“I would also like to acknowledge the leadership of our great Mayor, Gavin Newsom, who has been instrumental in ensuring a 21st century transportation system for San Francisco.
“I would also like to recognize APTA President Bill Millar. For more than 10 years, Bill has been a tireless advocate for public transit in the halls of Congress. We rely on his leadership to move a public transportation agenda forward.
“Two hundred years ago, around the time of the Lewis and Clark expeditions and the Louisiana Purchase, President Thomas Jefferson realized that for commerce to flow in America, for people to move, and for our country to flourish, we needed to build the infrastructure of our country.
“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 President Jefferson, or his Secretary of the Treasury, Albert Gallatin, who submitted a plan to Congress to develop the infrastructure of America. These challenges inspired these great men. For America to be great, they believed it needed to invest in its future strength.
“The Erie Canal, the Cumberland Road, and of particular interest to you, the transcontinental railway stand today as legacies of this vision.
“To finance this infrastructure, these early Americans 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 Albert Gallatin said, roads and canals to unite our young nation could not ‘be left to individual exertion.'
“It was in that tradition that 100 years later, in 1908, President Theodore Roosevelt launched a similar commitment by convening a White House Conference on Conservation to preserve America's natural beauty. That led to the creation of the National Park Service and helped a growing America remain a great America and continue to be an even greater America.
“Today, again, we stand at a crossroads with another opportunity to unite our nation.
“200 years after we first committed to national infrastructure, Congress is prepared to observe the accomplishments of Presidents Thomas Jefferson and Theodore Roosevelt by seizing opportunities for innovation and progress. We must invest in our nation's infrastructure, and we must reverse climate change. By investing in public transit, we can 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.
“Our nation faces great infrastructure challenges: crumbling roads and deficient bridges, insufficient maintenance of the electricity grid, aging pipelines, overloaded ports, and most devastating of all - the levee failures during Hurricane Katrina.
“All of you know best how the rising demand for public transit is placing enormous strain on rail transit systems, which around the country are in desperate need of upgrades, expansions, and operating funds.
“But in this litany of challenges is an opportunity to think in new and different ways. These challenges are opportunities to strengthen our nation.
“That includes serious investments in rail transit systems, which are in desperate need of upgrades, expansions, and operating funds.
“The challenge of our crumbling infrastructure is also an opportunity to think in new and different ways to strengthen our nation.
“Rebuilding America is a national security issue. Ninety percent of our oil imports are used for transportation. 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 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.
“Rebuilding America is an equality issue. 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, Rosa Parks, and one public bus. Transportation - especially public transit - is the road to opportunity.
“As Speaker of the House, my flagship issue is energy independence and reducing global warming. That is because I believe preserving our planet for future generations is our most urgent challenge. 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. 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.
“But it is not enough to improve vehicle efficiency and promote biofuels. We must also address total ‘vehicle miles traveled,' which are growing at two and a half times the rate of population growth.
“In that regard, you are in the lead - getting people out of their cars and onto light rail, light rail, trolleys, and commuter rail, for example. Already, public transit saves our nation 1.4 billion gallons of gasoline every year.
“The fuel savings from using transit are magnified when we add in the ‘smart growth' that springs up around transit, especially rail transit stations. People use transit for more of their daily needs, such as running errands, and the nation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gasoline annually. In San Francisco alone, use of the Muni's system results in an estimated 25 million gallons in oil savings.
“Last year, public transportation ridership reached its highest level in 50 years. While this upward trend it tremendously encouraging, it is overloading many of your systems, and making the need for infrastructure investment all the more pressing.
“The question is not whether we must invest in our nation's infrastructure, but rather, 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, including public transportation projects. 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. This included billions for public transit modernization and improvement. 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 have always been part of the structure of public transit; now they are playing an increasingly larger role in financing other types of infrastructure.
“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 - transit, clean water, passenger rail, highways - where dirt will fly and people will be put to work that simply lack the funds to begin now.
“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. The ‘cap' refers to an overall limit on annual greenhouse gas emissions from the United States. ‘Trade' refers to the trading of greenhouse gas allowances, to ensure greater economic efficiency and generate revenues for public purposes, such as developing new low-carbon technologies. Some of these revenues could be used for investments such as public transit that further reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“The Senate will begin floor debate on the Lieberman-Warner bill this week. It currently includes $171 billion in funding for public transportation through 2050. The House is also drafting cap and trade legislation, and we welcome your ideas as we move forward on this critical endeavor.
“In order to invest in rebuilding our nation, we need to engage the public in our 21st century vision.
“In the Congress, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Oregon 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.
“New technologies have the opportunity to offer new solutions.
“In that regard, this November, voters in California will have a chance to vote to build high-speed rail, and bring to America a system enjoyed around the world.
“This investment will create good-paying jobs, boost the economy, relieve gridlock and congestion, and offer an environmentally friendly and economically viable transportation alternative.
“California will set a new golden spike for rail travel as we break ground on an 800-mile system with trains traveling speeds of 220 miles per hour, transporting passengers from the Transbay Terminal right here in San Francisco to Union Station in Los Angeles in just two and a half hours.
“I know you have a keen interest in the reauthorization next year of the surface transportation bill, SAFETEA-LU.
“Congressman Jim Oberstar of Minnesota, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was born to lead on these issues of transportation and infrastructure. He is deeply committed to rebuilding America, and doing it a sustainable, climate-friendly way.
“Working with Highways and Transit Subcommittee Chairman Peter DeFazio of Oregon, Jim Oberstar and the committee members are already immersed in the issues involved in reauthorization.
“House Democrats are committed to robust public investment in public transportation. We are committed to advancing a bill that - at a minimum - honors the historic 80/20 funding split between highways and transit. The reduction of transit's share below 20 percent that occurred in the 2005 reauthorization will not be repeated.
“We are committed to reforming the New Starts process for funding rail transit projects. Many of you have worked long and hard to develop New Starts projects, only to have the Bush Administration move the goal posts, forcing you to comply with new criteria. This must stop.
“It is essential that the environmental and economic development benefits of rail transit become fundamental criteria in the decision-making process for New Starts. We see with each new light rail system - whether the location is Dallas, Minneapolis, or Portland - a tremendous upsurge in transit-oriented development around rail lines and stations. Transit and the high-density development that accompanies it both have tremendous value in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and putting us on the path to a low-carbon economy.
“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 America and protect the planet from global warming, because of your example of thinking entrepreneurially, acting regionally, and for succeeding in preserving the entire planet, the contribution of APTA members 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.”