Rural Arizona has too often been poorly served by Washington. Time and again, the federal government shows us that it does not understand the values we hold and the challenges we face, and we pay the price for their mistakes.
I ran for Congress to stand up against these old and broken ways in Washington, and that was why I voted against the Waxman-Markey energy bill. However well-intentioned, it failed to recognize Greater Arizona and rural America’s current situation and the impact this legislation would have on our communities.
I believe we must fight climate change and reduce our carbon footprint. I strongly support developing a range of renewable energy sources that will create 21st century jobs and free us from our dependence on foreign oil, and I am actively pushing for cost-effective measures that will help grow our renewable energy industry. But I refuse to do this at the expense of those who can least afford it in these difficult economic times.
The median income in the First District is $32,000 per household. For the 11 Native American tribes in Greater Arizona, the median household income is just over $7,200. One-third of Navajo Nation does not have running water or electricity, and by not investing in the grid, Washington has made it difficult for that to change for many of my constituents. Were it not for the tireless work of the volunteer board members of our rural electric co-operatives, it would just be too expensive for many Arizonans to light or heat their homes.
Those same co-operatives currently rely substantially on coal and natural gas, and the impact of this bill on them would be immediate and serious. Consumer rates would certainly be impacted, potentially to a far greater degree than elsewhere.
Alternative fuels, whether from solar, wind, biomass, coal or nuclear, will be crucial to our achieving energy independence and could create thousands of jobs in this district. I endorsed $35 billion in investment for renewable energy and energy efficiency in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, and I am committed to moving forward with economically viable renewable energy programs. But making progress toward this goal should benefit rural areas, and the Waxman-Markey bill could take a heavy toll on us.
Families in my district are already fighting to stay in their homes and pay for gas, farmers and ranchers are struggling to afford fertilizer and feed and small businesses are stretching to meet their budgets. Folks here cannot afford this bill in this economy.
This legislation also works against our first priority, creating jobs and getting people back to work. Unemployment is already approaching 10 percent in Greater Arizona, and in Indian Country, it is over 50 percent. It is unacceptable for our leaders in Washington to risk putting even more folks out of a job.
Waxman-Markey is going to damage industries that are major employers in Greater Arizona, most notably the four coal-fired power plants in the district. We are just starting to make progress toward economic recovery, and reducing capacity at those plants would wipe out those gains.
The significant impact on the federal budget was another concern. The Waxman-Markey bill will increase direct federal spending by $821 billion at a time when our national debt is already at historic levels. Though the bill creates revenue, how much is unclear and is susceptible to factors completely out of our control. We are facing many important challenges right now, and we need to start making tough choices. This was one of those tough choices.
Though the bill narrowly passed the House, many members joined me in standing up against the administration and congressional leaders and fighting for rural communities. I will continue to bring the voice of my district back to Washington and keep focused on improving our economy, getting folks back to work, restoring the fiscal balance and paying down our national debt. I know that being an independent voice is not always popular, but I will keep fighting to make Washington do the right thing for rural Arizona — no matter which party I have to stand up against.