116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
NEWTON - President observed Earth Day by joining employees of a green manufacturing facility in Newton to see how they build towers
for wind energy production.
On his first trip back to Iowa since becoming president, Obama reaffirmed his commitment to a comprehensive energy strategy to reduce dependence on foreign oil that leads to the depletion of the world's oil reserves and growing climate disruption.
The choice the nation faces "is not between saving our environment and saving our economy - it's a choice between prosperity and decline," he said.
"The nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy," he said to an invitation only crowd of about 200 at Trinity Structural Towers that is housed in a former Maytag plant.
Obama saw symbolism in the plant being used to create components for renewable energy production to power the household appliance that had been built there by generations of Newton workers.
"It wasn't too long ago that Maytag closed its operations in Newton. Hundreds of jobs were lost," he said in remarks delivered from the factory floor. "Today, this facility is alive again with new industry. This community continues to struggle, and not everyone has been so fortunate as to be rehired, but more than one hundred people will now be employed at this plant, many the same folks who had lost their jobs when Maytag shut its doors."
Jasper County Democratic Chairman Dan Kelley of Newton was pleased Obama recognized the changes the community has undergone from the days when Maytag employed about 4,000 people.
"It's been a difficult situation and it's not over," he said. "But now we're putting our efforts into clean energy."
In fact, Obama said, they are "helping to lead the next energy revolution."
That, Kelley said, will make the country stronger and the environment safer.
"I think he was here today to pat us on the back for a good job," Kelley said, "and to push us to keep going."
With Obama's policies, there should be plenty for Newton workers to do, according to Vic Abate, vice president of GE Renewables, which buys all of the production from Trinity and TPI, a Newton wind turbine blade manufacturer
Abate called Obama's vision "spot on" and urged the president and Congress to get economic stimulus money flowing to help maintain the momentum in the alternative energy industry.
"This plant is living off the terrific growth the industry saw in 2006, '07,'08," Abate said. "There's a significant backlog, but the urgency is now because new projects aren't starting. To get those projects to started, the stimulus money needs to flow."
Passage of a renewable energy standard would send a signal "that this country is going to go for 20 years building out its alternative energy, independent, carbon-free infrastructure."
If Congress adopted a renewable energy standard to reach 20 percent of electricity from wind by 2030 - which Abate said is doable, "you'll have to build one of these wind turbines every 15 minutes for like the next 20 years."
America, Obama said, has led the world in producing and harnessing new forms of energy.
U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley, a Waterloo Democrat, called it appropriate for the president to deliver his message in Newton.
"Trinity Structural Towers is a fitting symbol of the transformation of Iowa's economy from old industry to renewable energy," Braley said. "The president spoke today about an energy bill to invest billions of dollars every year in the job-creating renewable energy industry. Iowa is already a national leader in renewable energy, but this legislation could transform Iowa's economy, creating thousands of jobs and ending our state's dependence on foreign oil."
U.S. Rep. Tom Latham called Obama's Earth Day visit fitting because "Iowa is a worldwide leader in renewable energy and technologies in the fields of biofuels and wind energy."
He pledged to work with president on energy issue - to a point.
"I will not support punishing tax schemes, such as the misguided cap-and-trade proposal, that will cost the average household several thousand dollars per year," Latham said. "We can work together to find better ways to protect the planet without hitting the household budgets of families already struggling with the economic downturn."
Obama used the visit to a wind energy factory to unveil a program to develop the renewable energy of another kind - producing electricity from wind, wave, and ocean currents on the Outer Continental Shelf. It will allow the nation, the first time ever, to tap into the ocean's sustainable resources to generate clean energy in an environmentally sound and safe manner, he said.
Obama also spoke of his administration's investment in advanced biofuels and ethanol, which he called a "transitional fuel to help us end our dependence on foreign oil while moving toward clean, homegrown sources of energy." He also called for a global effort to address climate change and urged Americans to take simple steps - inflating their car tires and installing energy-efficient light bulbs - as ways they can be a part of the nation's energy solution.
Conservation has to be a part of the nation's effort, too, Obama said. Although the U.S. has led the global economy by developing new sources of energy, America has led in global energy consumption of that energy. The U.S. is less than five percent of the world's population, but accounts for 25 percent of the demand for oil.
That appetite comes at a tremendous cost to the economy. Twenty percent of the nation's spending is for imported oil, Obama said. It increases the country's vulnerability to the volatile oil markets and contributing to shifting weather patterns that are already causing record-breaking droughts, unprecedented wildfires, and more intense storms, he said.
Given that, the nation that leads the world in creating new sources of clean energy will be the nation that leads the 21st century global economy, Obama said. "America can be that nation. America must be that nation."
And finally, the U.S. must join nations in a global coalition to solve climate change.
"Our climate knows no boundaries; the decisions of any nation will affect every nation," he said. Next week, he will meet with leaders of major economies to discuss how to work together to address this energy crisis.
"It is true that the United States has been slow to participate in this kind of a process," Obama said. "But those days are now over. We are ready to engage."
Still in the first 100 days of his administration, Obama said steps he has taken "represent perhaps more progress than we have achieved in three decades" and suggested green energy can be the American legacy.
"A legacy of vehicles powered by clean renewable energy traveling past newly opened factories; of burgeoning industries employing millions of Americans in the work of protecting our planet; of an economy exporting the energy of the future - instead of importing the energy of the past; of a nation once again leading the world to meet the challenges of our time," he said.