Remarks by Vice President Biden Announcing Recovery Act ‘Retrofit Ramp-Up’ Awards on Eve of Earth Day

Washington, D.C.–(ENEWSPF)–April 21, 2010.

THE VICE PRESIDENT:  Secretary Salazar, Carol Browner is here, Secretary Ray Mabus, Ben Cardin — I miss seeing you guys every day, Ben.  Dennis Cardoza, I’m told Emanuel Cleaver is here.  I see Marcy is here, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur.  Ed Markey, who has gained his congressional Ph.D. on this issue.  I don’t know anybody who knows more about it than he does.  And we also have the — Mayor Michael Bell, the mayor of Toledo here, Mayor Phil Gordon, the Mayor of Phoenix, and Mayor Michael McGinn of Seattle.  And you’re all welcome.  And I’m sure there’s other very distinguished guests here as well that I have overlooked and I apologize.

Let me start off by saying, and I mean this sincerely, I was a senator a long time.  As a matter of fact, as I left the Senate, as Ben may remember, the Senate historian came in and said — thinking that he was going to make me feel better — he pointed out that only 17 senators in American history ever served as long as I did.  And I could feel my heart sinking into my stomach.  I said, “If my father were here, he’d define that as a misspent adulthood.”  (Laughter.)

But all kidding aside, I have been around awhile.  I served a long time with Gaylord Nelson, who — he and his wife, Carrie, were great friends.  They were real pioneers back in those early days when I got there, talked about the environment.

I was put on the Public Works Committee when I first got there.  And the first — the first recommendation I made is we change the name, the Environment and Public Works Committee.  And Mayor Jennings Randolph, or Jennings as he liked to be called, told me that if I made that recommendation again, I was off the committee.  (Laughter.)  You think I’m joking, I’m not.  There’s a lot that’s changed, a lot that’s changed.

And I expected when I took this job I’d have some real opportunities to impact on the formation of policy.  But one of the things I didn’t expect, I didn’t expect to have the opportunity to work with such a tutor.  And I’m not being solicitous.  To have an opportunity to work with the Secretary of Energy on something that I cared a great deal about when I was a senator, to have a man of Secretary Chu’s caliber and his depth of his knowledge and his commitment has genuinely been sort of an ongoing tutorial for me.  And I want to publicly thank you, Mr. Secretary.  (Applause.)

And as that old joke goes, the Secretary has forgotten more about this subject than I’m ever going to know.  But I am as passionately committed to this transition he refers to as I think anyone, as is the President.  I hadn’t planned on doing what I’m about to do today, but today’s announcement by General Motors that it’s paid back — it’s paid back its TARP loan in full — in full is a huge accomplishment.

The President of the United States took a lot of heat for that effort, to keep that company alive while it was transitioning.  And I would just like to point out that I am proud to be associated with the guy who saw the necessity to do this.  And this has even exceeded our expectations.  We’ve worked hard to help turn around the nation’s auto industry and give the car companies a chance to be viable without government assistance.  And we helped GM — we helped out GM so that they could retool, so that they could become a leader in the 21st century.

And we know that building energy-efficient cars with better gas mileage and cleaner emissions is going to be a big part of us being able to succeed, not only the auto industry, but also succeed in our quest for a better environment.  Today, GM paid back the loan in full five years ahead of schedule.  And now GM is in a better position to make them — make what the market demands, energy-efficient vehicles for a cleaner world.  And that leads me to Earth Day, the reason why we’re here today.

I also want to point out — I want to thank, by the way, Lisa Jackson, our EPA administrator.  She couldn’t be here today, but we all appreciate the tremendous work that she’s doing having once again — we now have again an Environmental Protection Agency again.  (Applause.)

And a happy almost Earth Day to all of you.  I say that because tomorrow is actually the day that officially marks the occasion.  But the truth is we’re here kicking off an entire earth week.  And I hope our administration has kicked off an entire earth administration.  Over the next few days, officials from across our administration will participate in more than a dozen events to celebrate Earth Day.  We’re getting everyone in the administration involved.  And today, the day before Earth Day, we kick off a week for an administration that for — literally for every day it’s Earth Day for us.  Because this implicates every aspect of our country’s self-interest, from foreign policy to economic policy to environmental policy to health care policy.  This impacts on every aspect — every aspect of what kind of country we’re going to leave our kids.

And 40 years ago, when Gaylord conceived and celebrated the first Earth Day, the world looked pretty different.  Some of us can remember the public health and environmental catastrophes that propelled Earth Day, the Earth Day movement in the first place, the Cuyahoga River literally catching on fire from all the oil and dumped trash that was in it.  Days of heavy smog in New York City so thick that people actually were dying from being unable to breathe the air.  The list goes on and on and on.  Our planet was sick.  It’s not healthy yet.  But our planet was sick and in need of desperate help.  It’s still in need of real help.

Because of Gaylord Nelson, and millions of Americans like some of you that are here today who joined him, we begin to make things a little bit better.  Forty years later, the first Earth Day — from the first Earth Day, the people of the first Earth Day celebration would look around and look out at all of you and they’d be very proud of what all of you have done.  They’d see recycling bins in your houses.  They’d see business spending money to make their facilities more energy efficient.  They’d see men and women heading to work to build and install wind turbines and solar panels and other components for the new energy future.  They’d see an administration building on his legacy, Gaylord’s legacy, protecting and restoring the Great Lakes, the Chesapeake Bay, the Gulf Coast; designating millions of acres of wilderness; saving 1.8 billion barrels of oil by reducing Greenhouse gases by raising fuel efficiency and emissions standards on cars and trucks, pulling us on the right track and by doubling the renewal energy that will be generated in this country.

Since the beginning of the environmental movement, we’ve been trying to transform the way we use energy and reduce our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels to tap into the vast, untapped, renewable energy sources and to use energy more efficiently.  The fact is we’ve been trying for 40 years, and we’ve made some progress.  But we’re now poised to make significantly greater strides, in our view, than ever because of the unprecedented investment in the Recovery Act and the leadership of the President and the Secretary of Energy.

Even before we took office, the President and myself and our economic team planned to use parts of what we knew had to be — we didn’t name it the Recovery Act then, but we knew we were going to have to have a Recovery Act.  There were significant parts of that Recovery Act to make investments that would create good jobs today, but while planting the seeds for great industries of tomorrow with clean energy being at the forefront and the heart of all of it.

The world already is transforming, as the Secretary said, to a new energy economy.  And the question is, are we going to lead it or are we going to continue to try to catch up?  We are going to be left behind.  We need to catch up.  With around $80 billion in clean energy investments, the Recovery Act is the largest single investment in clean energy in our history.  If you just took that piece out of the Recovery Act and passed it as a stand-alone bill, it’s the largest investment ever made in the history of the country in clean energy.

But we’re not just doing this with government funds.  We’re using government to provide the seed money to grow private industries.  And some of the initiatives that you mayors have going with the private sector in your communities is a model for what we should be doing.  Twenty-three billion dollars in renewable energy generation and advanced energy manufacturing, which will likely leverage more than $43 billion in additional investment; $2.4 billion in battery technology, matched by another $2.4 billion in private capital to help build energy-efficient cars of the future.

In January of ’09, there were two advanced battery factories in America.  By 2015, there will be 30.  The smart grid, $3.4 billion in government investment led to $4.7 billion in private investment to help get us to a stronger, more efficient, more reliable energy grid; $2.3 billion, which is likely to leverage $5.4 billion in private capital to put us back on track to double our capacity to manufacture the components of a new, green economy in America from wind turbines to solar panels to create energy that’s renewable.  Renewable resources to batteries and smart grid systems to store that — and transmit that energy, to technologies like advanced lighting that help conserve energy.

We’re going to start making that stuff here in America with American workers.  We’re going to be coming up to you guys in the House and the Senate and asking for 48C to be bumped up to $5 billion so we could be making this stuff in America.

And today, we’re announcing another important Recovery Act program, the “Retrofit Ramp-Up.”  Now, I wonder what sometimes our constituents think when we come up with these names.  (Laughter.)  The “Retrofit Ramp-Up.”  We all in this room know what it is.  We may be the only ones who know exactly what it means.  (Laughter.)  But it’s a kind of a buzz word, retrofits.  But what we’re really talking about here is simple.  It’s about making our homes and our office buildings more efficient and more comfortable and more affordable, replacing windows and doors.  I have visited, along with some of the people in the front row, new window and door factories making incredibly — incredibly energy-efficient windows and doors, which can save billions of dollars over time.  Putting in new air conditioning or heating units that are much more efficient.  Sealing up cracks and openings where air can leak into and out of your home.  That’s retrofitting — small stuff, but big, big, big savings.

In fact, retrofitting existing homes has the potential to cut more than $21 billion a year annually in our energy cost.  There are more than 100 million homes in America.  In the last year, only 40,000 took advantage of the energy-saving retrofits.  It’s not that homeowners don’t want to lower their energy bills; it’s just that they found that the process was too difficult, from accessing energy audits to finding skilled retrofit workers to simply being able to afford it.

Now, last fall the Middle Class Task Force, which the President asked me to chair, and the Council on Environmental Equality released a report that called the recovery retrofit — explaining how we’re working to overcome the challenges that got in the way of homeowners taking advantage of this.  And these grants that we’re announcing today are grants to 25 communities nationwide, and are a major step in the direction of making this much easier to do, much more efficient, and much more likely to happen.

This program is all about developing innovative models that can be expanded throughout the country.  And there are a couple that are particularly important things about these grants that we should mention.  First, these grants are focused on encouraging entire neighborhoods, entire neighborhoods to take advantage of the retrofits all at the same time.  Right now, most retrofit work programs are on a house by house basis.  The construction crew may come into a neighborhood, upgrade one home one week, and then they have to come back to work in a neighborhood home a few weeks later, maybe the same neighborhood.

Well, the Retrofit* Ramp-up* award winners are taking a different approach.  Now, that — the same construction crew would upgrade all the homes on the same block at the same time.  That saves contractors time and money.  They can pass the savings on to their customers.  And it’s just a much more efficient way to operate.  And these communities aren’t just relying on these grants.  They’ll use this as seed money to leverage an additional $2.8 billion over the next three years.  That’s a total of five dollars for every dollar — every dollar of grant money.  And they’re doing this by building partnerships between local governments, utility companies, financial institutions, and nonprofits.  Whole communities are coming together to get this going, and when we look around you’ll see it.  And you’ll see more and more of it as the months go on.

I know there are some people from the Philadelphia mayor’s office that are here today.  This has been one of Mayor Nutter’s hobby horses.  Well, their city has a plan to work with private lenders to connect homeowners to easy access, affordable loans to pay for retrofit work.  The Mayor of Toledo, Mike Bell, is here.  Toledo’s program will provide career training, job placement, and mentoring for people actually going to be doing this work.  The Mayor of Phoenix, Phil Gordon, is here.  Just about — just talk about partnerships, his city is partnering with Arizona State University Community Colleges, local utility companies, and five local banks to carry out a comprehensive retrofit program focusing on buildings surrounding Phoenix’s new light rail line.

Investing in retrofits is a triple win.  It’s a win for consumers who save money on their energy bill.  It’s a win for the environment because we’re using less energy, which cuts down on harmful emissions from greenhouse gases.  And, finally, it’s a win for the American economy, because it creates green jobs, jobs that can’t be outsourced.

Now, with so many worthy applications, not everyone got funds today.  But the Department of Energy is still working to find more opportunities to get cities to get involved in programs like this.  But it’s not just cities.  We also want to encourage millions of Americans across the country to retrofit their homes.  That’s why the President has made it a priority to pass legislation creating a new energy-efficient rebate program that we call “Homestar.”

And, by the way, I was home the last two weekends going to Home Depot both times, one, to buy a 30-inch hedge clipper, because my wife was very dissatisfied with our hedges.  (Laughter.)  You all think I’m kidding.  (Laughter.)  I am not kidding.  (Laughter.)  Anyway — anyway, and the other one was to take my almost four-year-old grandson, Hunter, who said, “Pop, I don’t got a tape measurer.”  So he had to get a tape measurer.  He’s stolen four of mine.  He can’t find them.  But we went to get another tape measurer.  (Laughter.)  But all kidding aside, they asked about the program, the guys working the aisles, the women working the aisles, they asked about the program.

Under this program homeowners will be eligible for rebates worth up to $1,005 for simple home upgrades like replacing an old water heater, putting in those new windows that I talked about.  If you decide to do a comprehensive retrofit of your whole house, you’d be eligible for a rebate up to $3,000.  Homeowners won’t have to fill out forms, send it in the mail, and wait for the check to arrive.  They’ll get rebates up front from the hardware store or the contractor.

The Homestar rebate program is going to create tens of thousands of jobs in industries like construction, manufacturing, and I might add, sales.  These people, there are going to be people in Home Depot and — I shouldn’t just be talking about Home Depot — but, you know, a lot of other places.  (Laughter.)  Lowes, that’s the other one in my neighborhood.  (Laughter.)

Anyway — (laughter) — they’re jobs, and people need jobs — jobs in manufacturing, in all those areas where people have suffered very badly because of this recession.

At the same time, we’re going to reduce our energy consumption, and families are going to save hundreds of dollars on the utility bills.  And that makes a big difference.

You know, in the — it’s a commonsense idea that has bipartisan support.  So we’re calling on Congress to get this bill on the President’s desk as soon as possible.  But of course to really get this right, to really free ourselves from the grip of foreign oil, to really preserve our planet for generations to come, we need a comprehensive energy climate bill.  That’s something that Chairman Markey has been working on and my good friend, John Kerry, along with Lindsay Graham and others in the Senate side.  I am hopeful, I am hopeful.

We’re grateful to the House for passing the bill last year.  And I want to thank all the House members because that was not an easy vote at the time to take.  But you were dead right.  The bill was a good, solid bill.  You passed a bill and we continue working with both Democrats and Republicans to get it passed through the Senate.

You know, it’s a political cliché to say we’re trying to change the world.  But, you know, it’s most — in it’s most literal sense, that’s what we’re trying to begin to do here today.  We’ve got to change the world.

Does anybody think we can lead the world in the 21st century with the energy policy we’ve had in the last century?  Does anybody think we can leave a planet to my grandchildren and their grandchildren that is sustainable without a fundamental change in the way we do business?

But this is a case where, as the Secretary pointed out, not just for the United States but for the world, this can become a win-win situation.  You know, it used to be when the construction trades and the building trades would support us, when we’d say, “green” that meant, oh, god, the snail darter, we’re not going to have a building, we’re not going to build a dam, we’re not going to — people are beginning to understand green means a cleaner economy, and green means jobs, green.  Green means economic advancement across the board.

You know, making the world itself better, the air we breathe, the water we drink, the mountains our children will climb, the lakes they’ll swim in, that’s why Gaylord Nelson started Earth Day 40 years ago, and that’s why you’re all here today.

And I want to thank you all for helping us literally change the world.  So thank you all folks.  And may God bless you all and may God bless protect our troops.  Keep it up.  Thank you.  (Applause.)