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President Bill Clinton visited Los Angeles on April 3 and talked infrastructure with Mayor Eric Garcetti during the Clinton Global Initiative (CGI) 21st Century Infrastructure and Innovation for a Resilient Economy Conference held at city hall.
CGI, established in 2005 by Clinton, brings global leaders together to find innovative solutions to the world’s most challenging issues. The conference at city hall was the organization’s fifth such meeting.
Clinton discussed the benefits of facilitating infrastructure investments and public-private partnerships to create quality jobs and more sustainable cities. He said the U.S. must organize to take the most economical, job intensive and environmentally friendly course.
“The only reason we haven’t done it is that the financing systems are not organized around both the real growth potential and the real economics, and we have to change that,” Clinton said.
He said the most frustrating thing around the world is that investments in infrastructure, which have a high rate of return, are often “crippled” because the financing mechanisms and the distribution of political power in most countries are geared toward “protecting yesterday instead of creating tomorrow.”
Clinton referenced the Empire State Building in New York City. City officials are preparing to celebrate the anniversary of the retrofitting of the structure, which is now the oldest skyscraper in the world to have a LEED rating, Clinton said.
He said the project lasted approximately two-and-a-half years and created 275 “really good jobs.” Because the owners had good cash reserves and could self-finance, the project will be paid off in over four years, Clinton said. The result was a 38 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, a 38 percent reduction in electricity usage and a 38 percent reduction in its power bill, which is an “astonishing thing,” he said.
“But it happened because they can self-finance,” Clinton added.
He said “it is insane” that, in many places, individuals can get all the money they want to build an old-fashioned power plant. Most states allow 30 years to pay off loans for nuclear plants and about 20 years for coal plants, Clinton said.
“And there is no energy alternative that I can determine that takes more than seventeen-and-a-half years to pay off,” he said, adding that it’s easier to finance traditional power sources because “yesterday is better organized than tomorrow.”
However, Los Angeles has banks that are willing to invest in infrastructure, so it can lead the way, Clinton said.
Garcetti mentioned the city’s LED Streetlight Replacement Program, which replaced 140,000 streetlights and cut L.A.’s streetlight bill by 63 percent. It also removes 47,000 tons of carbon dioxide out of the air every year, he said. Now, the city is looking at other ways to utilize streetlights — like adding solar panels or making them Wi-Fi hotspots, Garcetti said.
“That happened because of the Clinton Global Initiative, and that deserves a round of applause,” he said, adding that the lights make communities safer and clear up the night sky. “When you look up to the heavens, you see stars that you literally didn’t see three or four years ago.”
Garcetti said the city is looking at other innovative ways to become more efficient and invest in infrastructure. He said the effort is crucial.
“It’s about life itself,” Garcetti added.
Clinton said CGI has done work in several other countries, and no matter what country the organization visits, it’s evident that everyone can help.
“Every place we go, we find that the transition to a different energy future has to be accompanied by a strategy to save water, a strategy to use other resources,” he said.
Clinton said President Barack Obama’s administration is on board.
“They get this, and they want to do it,” he said, adding that the issue must become less political. “It is the best economic strategy we could possibly pursue, and it’s true everywhere.”
Garcetti said the country needs a “desegregation of values” — in that environmentalism and sustainability should not be policy, but rather a way of life. He said city officials are beginning to think in those terms.
“That’s good for our resiliency,” Garcetti added.
Clinton said to “just imagine” what could be accomplished if proponents had a large chunk of funding to utilize. He said the federal government and municipalities could match investments and give a guaranteed rate of return — in some cases, tax-free.
“You could put huge numbers of people to work,” Clinton said.
He said many European countries fund infrastructure improvements through partnerships. Clinton mentioned Germany, which doesn’t get a lot of sunshine but generated 22 gigawatts of solar energy in one day — the equivalent of 20 nuclear power plants.
Garcetti said that in the last quarter, Germany created more solar energy than all of California has ever generated.
“Think about the difference in weather between those two places,” he said.
Garcetti referenced the clean technology corridor that has been created on the eastern edge of downtown Los Angeles.
“These innovation centers — that I think are America’s greatest advantage at the end of the day — are the places that we’re going to rethink manufacturing, rethink sustainability, rethink energy and infrastructure,” he said, adding that the American way is to think forward.
Clinton said the best chance of destroying political polarization in the U.S. is through public-private partnerships.
“This could be our political and social salvation,” he added.
For information, visit www.clintonglobalinitiative.org.
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