On my way to work this morning I was handed a flyer announcing that Senator Kerry would be speaking at noon at Faneuil Hall; since I figured that would be significantly more exciting than work, I decided to take a long lunch and go down and listen. After waiting in a shockingly long line where I was bothered by some Lyndon LaRouche supporters (I didn't even tell them I'm a Republican and they still wouldn't leave me alone - clearly they sensed annoyance and pounced) I finally found a seat inside for the speech, which was focused on some new energy proposals Kerry's going to introduce. I got one of the press aides to give me a copy of the advance text (they like bloggers, she told me), which was handy - I marked all the passages I wanted to remember to post about as he spoke. Of course you can also now read the whole speech; the text is here on Kerry's website.
It was, for the most part, a good speech, although one that has, for all intents and purposes, been given for decades by leaders who have made the same arguments, from John Anderson to Al Gore. Kerry's indictment of both parties for the feckless energy policies of recent decades was both harsh and fair; I really liked a passage criticizing last summer's energy bill (as I did). Kerry called that legislation "a monstrosity with no guiding national goal, no tough decisions, no change in priorities - just a logrolling, back-scratching collection of subsidies for any industry with the clout to get a seat at the table and a share of the pork." Not too far off the mark.
While Kerry was at times quite partisan, I was somewhat surprised that he spent most of the speech attacking "Washington" - clearly he's going for the "outsider" angle. He focused sharply on the "energy independence is a national security issue" angle, making the important if unoriginal correlation between the sacrifices our soldiers are being asked to make in Iraq and the sacrifices the American people are not being asked to make here at home. One of the biggest applause lines of the speech was this:
"We wouldn't elect a candidate who said terrorism wasn't a threat. We wouldn't tolerate a candidate for national office who didn't say he was committed to capturing or killing Osama bin Laden. But for too long we've tolerated those who treat the threat of energy insecurity and the truth of global climate change as an inconvenient myth. Well, from now on, every American who walks into a polling place can and should vote to kick out anyone who stands in the way of energy independence."
A couple of other good lines before I get to the proposals Kerry laid out today.
- In urging "presidential muscle" behind alternative-fuel vehicles: "You want hybrid vehicles out on those highways? Make it affordable for Americans to buy American hybrids - because that's a hell of a lot better than subsidizing Saudi sheiks who look the other way while madrassas teach kids hatred and violence."
- Following praise for President George H.W. Bush and the passage of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments, "The story since then is not just a disappointment - it is a flagrant, dangerous, arrogant disavowal of science at the behest of the powerful. It is a damning story of public irresponsibility and private profiteering. Those who have encouraged, facilitated and acquiesced in it will go down in history as modern day robber barons who sold out future generations for their own selfish gain. We need to use this November to throw the robber barons and their cronies out of the Congress and put the peoples’ interests back in."
-The question now – even more than it has been for the last years – is not whether climate change is happening but what are we going to do about it? No, I don't mean how does the political system moan and groan and adopt makeshift responses. I mean what are we really going to do? How do we turn this danger into opportunity? How do we meet a challenge of epic proportions with an epic American response?
Well we have to start by ending the bizarre disconnect of American politics. Real crises stare us in the face, screaming for solution. But non-existent, contrived ones replace the real ones on the agenda of a Congress that wants to change the political climate instead of dealing with climate change. They remain bent on dividing the country with flag burning and gay bashing amendments to the Constitution when we should be strengthening the country with a determined attack on global climate change."
Kerry's three "big new ideas" today were these.
- Freeze and Reverse Greenhouse Gas Emissions: By establishing an economy-wide cap and trade program (beyond what McCain and Lieberman have proposed), Kerry claims that he can freeze U.S. emissions levels by 2010 and then reverse them to 65% below 2000 levels by 2050. He did not provide cost estimates for this plan, but said that it would include tax incentives/credits, increased funding for research and development. While this certainly sounds nice, I'd have to see a great deal more specific about the proposal before I'd sign on to that (once he actually introduces the bill I'm sure we'll know more).
- Mandate Reduced Oil Consumption: Kerry will propose legislation to mandate a reduction in American oil use by 2.5 million barrels per day by 2015. "Yes," Kerry said in his speech, "I said mandate - and I said it because we've lost too much time for voluntary measures to be put to the test." Some of the options he mentioned for meeting this target include increased funding for flex-fuel vehicles, increasing CAFE standards, tax credits for retrofitting manufacturing facilities and funding additional research in alternative fuels and other potentials. This doesn't seem like too harsh a requirement, and I think through a combination of ways it could be a huge step toward both energy security and a cleaner world.
- Developing Energy Technologies for the Future: This was the catchall; Kerry wants to double federal funding for research and development in energy-related areas and form what he calls an Energy Security and Conservation Trust Fund (his version of the lockbox, I guess). This would be funded by rolling back oil company tax breaks and use the money to speed new technologies.
Obviously the specifics of these plans will need to be seen before I'll come down for or against them. In principle, they don't sound too bad, and frankly if Kerry keeps talking about them (combined with Gore's recent resurgence) it can only be a good thing as we move forward. It is not a stretch to say that these or similar measures will have to be taken sooner or later ... and to me, it seems to make sense that we do them while we can choose to, rather than waiting until our hands are forced.
It was an interesting speech today, and I'll be watching to see what comes of it.