House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who was in Portland Thursday touting a new residential energy efficiency program here, vowed to continue fighting climate change even if it costs Democrats politically in the next election.
“This is about saving the planet, not the Democratic majority,” Pelosi said after touring a newly weatherized home in Northeast Portland. “We have to be thinking about the next generation, not the next election and that is what this conversation is about.
Pelosi, who also appeared at a Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee fundraiser at the Portland home of Rep. Earl Blumenauer, is struggling to maintain a Democratic majority in the face of continued high unemployment and negative ratings in polls.
The House speaker argued that federal investments in weatherizing homes and businesses eventually will create millions of jobs and help provide for more lasting prosperity. And she made it clear that House Democrats will continue to push for ways to wean industry and consumers from carbon-based fuels that she said cause harmful climate changes.
“We have to make up for a lot of lost time,” said Pelosi, blaming the Bush administration and Republican congressional leaders for refusing to address the threat of climate change seriously. “We have a moral obligation to preserve the planet.”
Republican lawmakers criticize the House Democratic majority for passing legislation — which has foundered in the Senate — that would set up a “cap and trade” approach for reducing carbon emissions.
“Are these the sort of programs that are going to deliver us from the worst recession since the 1930s?” asked Republican congressional candidate Scott Bruun, who is running against Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore. “I would say the answer is no.”
Bruun, a West Linn state representative running in what may be the state’s most competitive congressional district, charged that the federal stimulus bill passed in early 2009 “has been a failure in creating private sector jobs” and was unable to make a serious dent in unemployment. Instead, he said, too much of the stimulus has been used as “a convenient excuse to expand the scope of the federal government.”
Pelosi, however, pointed to one economic study saying the unemployment rate would have zoomed to as high as 14.5 percent nationally — instead of its current rate of 9.5 percent — without the stimulus bill. And in the first eight months of 2010, she noted, more jobs have been created than during the eight years of the Bush administration.
Figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show that is true, with nearly 1.3 million jobs created compared with a net gain of 1 million during the Bush administration. But fewer than half the 2010 job gains were in the private sector and many of them are temporary Census jobs.
During her visit, Pelosi highlighted a program started in Portland and now being rolled out statewide to help residents improve the energy efficiency of their homes. Clean Energy Works Oregon, a new nonprofit that won a grant for $20 million in stimulus money, provides loans to homeowners for such things as insulation and high-efficiency furnaces.
Homeowners receive tax credits that help offset the cost of the work and can pay back the loans on their utility bills.
Pelosi, Blumenauer and Portland Mayor Sam Adams visited the home of Peter and Heather Ficht, a couple with two young children who recently installed at least $20,000 worth of energy improvements.
The couple said they would pay it back through a monthly $100 charge on their utility bills. Their contractor, the Neil Kelly company, estimated that their energy costs would decline by about 40 percent.
“It’s a really good deal,” said Heather Ficht, adding that they are also able to make much greater use of two upstairs rooms that previously had been too hot or too cold during much of the year.
During her visit, Pelosi sported one of the bicycle pins that Blumenauer, chairman of the Congressional Bike Caucus, passes out to supporters of bicycle transportation.
“When I come here, I always know I am going to see the future,” Pelosi said, adding that the city serves as a “model to the country” when it comes to such things as transportation and energy efficiency.
Blumenauer told the speaker that if the nation adopted Portland’s energy efficiency gains and its lower-than-average-rates of driving, “It could achieve more than 30 percent of what we need to accomplish in terms of climate change. And we would saving a boatload of money, day after day, year after year, and people will like that.”
Blumenauer hosted Pelosi at a closed-door fundraiser that his aide, Willie Smith, said attracted some 40 donors and raised about $130,000 for the Democratic campaign committee.