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Rep. Waxman on Alternative Energy, the Environment and Public Health

The longtime incumbent is running for the redrawn 33rd Congressional District seat in November.

, a Democrat who is running for the newly created 33rd Congressional District, is the Ranking Member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which guides the House of Representatives on issues that include energy concerns, the environment and public health matters.

During his long-standing involvement with the committee, Waxman said he has pushed for legislation that promotes alternative energy, safeguards the environment and protects the public’s well-being. In the second and final part of Patch's interview with Waxman, the congressman covers these topics and more.

Patch: When solar panel manufacturer Solyndra filed for bankruptcy in 2011, defaulting on a $535 million federal loan, do you think the public lost faith in renewable energy projects backed by the government? 

Waxman: Solyndra had a loan guarantee and the reason we lost money on that loan guarantee is that the Chinese undercut the price. Solyndra was working on a different alternative solar panel, the Chinese made it and sold it for less and Solyndra couldn’t viably stay in business under those circumstances. When they closed down we lost out on the guarantee and I’m sorry we lost out on the guarantee, but we succeeded in a lot of other guarantees and we’ve seen a lot of businesses getting started with a lot of jobs created and a lot of alternative energy sources moving forward.

I hope the public’s view of trying to help alternative energy sources or renewable sources of energy has not been diminished. We absolutely must move in that direction if we are going to make our country more independent from oil being brought in from countries that seek to do us ill—and from oil itself. We are vulnerable to price spikes when the price of oil goes up. We don’t have enough oil in the United States to make ourselves self-sufficient from importing energy.

Furthermore, burning oil and not using alternatives does an enormous amount of harm to our environment. It causes climate change from greenhouse gases and that’s something we want to avoid.

Patch: Offshore drilling is starting up in Alaska. What are your thoughts on offshore drilling, particularly off the California coastline?

Waxman: I have mixed feelings about drilling off the coast of Alaska but I know the [Obama Administration] has given a green light to it. What I’m dead set against is drilling off the coast of California and some other parts of our country, and will do what I can to stop that. I’m against it because there’s a danger to our population from oil drilling. If we had an oil spill like we saw in the Gulf of Mexico, it can do a great harm to the environment, to the ecology.

Now I have to point out this is opposite Gov. Romney’s position and the Republican position in the Congress where the Republicans voted over and over again to allow oil drilling off the coast of California and other places. A lot of their anti-environmental laws never got very far even though they passed the House because the Senate didn’t take it up and the president certainly wouldn’t sign them. But I think if Republicans have control after this next election they’ll get a head of steam to try to move a lot of the anti-environmental agenda that they’ve been pushing.

I’m not against oil drilling. I just don’t want us to rely only on oil drilling. We’re a country that consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil. The best estimate of what we have by way of oil resources in this country is 2 or 3 percent [of the world's reserves]. So we’re never going to drill ourselves to complete independence, but we should develop the technology not to have to rely on oil at all.  

Patch: What do you think about citizens’ efforts to rezone the land under the  in an attempt to keep the company from rebuilding the facility?

Waxman: I don’t think it’s a good idea to rezone the land. I think it opens up the city to a lot of litigation. It’s not the way to approach taking away private property. I wrote a letter, however, suggesting that since the AES power plant in Redondo Beach is not at full capacity and is likely to be replaced because it has lived out its usefulness, that AES and the [California] Energy Commission consider  there at all. I would want them to review that possibility and see if they can reach that conclusion. But I don’t think it makes sense to rezone them out of existence because I don’t think that will work.

Patch: You have served in Congress since 1975. What are some of the most important pieces of legislation you've helped to enact?

Waxman: I’ve accomplished more than most members of Congress in enacting legislation that’s important to the American people.

We authorized the [1990] Clean Air Act. I authored legislation in 2009 to give the FDA regulatory authority over tobacco and to particularly stop the tobacco companies from targeting our kids. I held the first hearings on the AIDS epidemic and passed the legislation known as the Ryan White Act, which has been reauthorized many times, in order to deal with this epidemic by providing a comprehensive approach, especially the drugs that allow people to avert what used to be a death sentence by having HIV and AIDS.

I authored the legislation to provide nutrition labeling information so that consumers can control their diets and make choices. I authored a number of environmental bills, not just the Clean Air Act, but the Safe Drinking Water Act, stopping pesticides in food, the initiative to provide safer food by giving the FDA more power and authority to regulate the food supply so that we don’t have outbreaks of dreaded diseases, and I authored the legislation to bring down pharmaceutical prices by allowing generics to compete. Those are some of the things I’ve accomplished.

I might point out that every one of those bills had the common denominator that it had Democratic as well as Republican support. In fact many of those bills were signed by Republican presidents, whether they were Reagan, George H. W. Bush or George W. Bush.

Patch: If reelected, what will you work on next?

Waxman: I've been working for a long time for us to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and climate change. I think this is a necessity for our country and for the world. We’ve seen more unpredictable weather patterns, whether it’s drought or storms or hurricanes, than we’ve ever seen before. We’ve had a hotter temperature every year the last several years. I thinks it ridiculous that so many Republicans put their head in the sand and deny the science, even though there’s overwhelming scientific consensus that there is such a thing as global warming. It’s caused by, to a great extent, man-made pollution and we can do something to control it. 

I want to work with President Obama to make our tax system fair, to hold down our deficits and to provide spending that will give recognition to the vulnerable populations by providing a sufficient safety net for people who will otherwise fall completely down to the bottom.

I want to work with the president on a comprehensive immigration bill. I’ve heard over and over again not only the complaints of people that are here, such as young people who want to go to school...get an education even though they came to the United States [illegally] as children. I know a lot of businesses want to have immigrants allowed to have work permits. They can be, as immigrants have been in the past, a real engine for economic growth here in the United States. So there are issues that I want to work on. I can work on a bipartisan basis, I can work with the president, I can get things done.

Patch: What do you think of your opponent, ?

Waxman: My opponent Mr. Bloomfield has a record of being in the Republican Party. I’m proud of being a Democrat. I’ve been a Democrat all my political career and I’m proud of being a Democrat and what I fight for. He has been a Republican and he’s now saying he’s an Independent. I don’t know what that means to be an Independent when he has been a lifelong Republican and he’s given to McCain and Romney and John Boehner. I would presume he’s going to side with the Republicans more often than not and if he left the Republican Party because they’re extreme, he’s right about that. The partisanship we’ve seen and the inability for Congress to act to get things done is based on the extremism in the Republican Party.

Over the years I’ve worked with a lot of Republicans. Some of my best allies were Republicans. But now they have a lot of people in the Republican Party in the House who think compromise is a dangerous, bad thing to do and they’re not looking for ways to work together. They’re looking for ways to stop things from happening.

I’m interested also to know what Mr. Bloomfield’s positions are on the issues. All we know is that he wants reform of the political process. 

Patch: How can the nation best recover from its deficit, which topped $1 trillion in 2012?  

Waxman: I think that people ought to be very wary of these glib statements about the budget deficit. I think we’ve got to reduce the deficit in a responsible way. I think the president was moving in that direction when he tried to get a compromise with speaker John Boehner but couldn’t get that compromise because Republicans said they would not add any more revenues. The only reductions they would have would be to cut...the safety nets, our investments in research, our investments in education. As far as I’m concerned, our investments in our country’s future.

I think people ought to be very wary about budgets that are being offered that really do not have a balance to them and would undercut the role that I think most Americans and certainly most people in this district think government must take on.

Patch: What are your thoughts on the current state of the economy and unemployment? Is the recovery not happening fast enough?

Waxman: I have something to say about the economy and what President Obama inherited. President George W. Bush who preceded him inherited a balanced budget from President Clinton. And President George W. Bush left this huge deficit because he insisted on tax cuts primarily for the upper income without any countervailing reductions elsewhere. It was all accomplished without paying for it. Tax cuts for the rich were just added to the deficit. He undertook two wars, and we didn’t pay for them either. The cost of those wars were added to the deficit. 

When you add the out-of-control spending by President Bush to the financial catastrophe we suffered while he was still president in 2008, President Obama inherited an economy that was shedding jobs in large numbers, the recession was already underway and he tried to get things moving by stimulating the economy. The Republicans would not work with him on legislation even though a lot of conservative Republican economists said that was the thing we had to do. They refused to do it because their primary objective was to have him fail, even though it hurt the American people and cost them jobs and hurt our economy.

The president said he would do it by way of tax cuts. He said he would take Republican proposals. And the Republicans said no to that. They said no to his jobs bill that would have put more money into providing jobs for people. They have said no to everything that the president has proposed. And now they want to run on a record that the president has not done enough when they stopped him from doing things that he thought would have made sense.

Our first priority should not be to reduce the deficit. Our first priority should be getting people back to work and figuring out how to reduce the deficit in that context because when people are back to work, we’ll have more revenue, we’ll be spending less on help for people who have lost their jobs and we can then start talking about austerity. But the Republican approach is austerity first. Cut back on people first, give tax breaks at the same time to people who are well-off. That won’t provide jobs. That’s just going to provide perhaps another recession.

[Obama] has done everything he could. He has done a lot but what he wanted to do and could have done, he’s been stopped by the Republicans who control the Congress because they have an absolute majority in the House and using the filibuster, they can stop legislation in the Senate, which they have done over and over again.

Patch: Is there anything else you would like to say to voters?

Waxman: A lot of times people don’t notice what’s been happening in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives because it hasn’t passed into law. But they have a scary record.

We recently released a compilation of proposals that passed the House that were so anti-environmental, it made the House of Representatives the most anti-environment House in the history of our country. They would have repealed the heart of the Clean Air Act by saying standards shouldn’t be based on protecting pubic health, but standards should be based on how much it would cost industry. That’s never been the case since 1970 when President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act and it wasn’t anything that was proposed at all in 1990 when we passed a revision to the Clean Air Act by overwhelming bipartisan majority.

They wanted to allow more drilling off our coasts, they wanted more toxic pollutants that cause birth defects and neurological diseases and cancer to be remitted because industries wanted them—even though the law said that we were going to try to regulate those pollutants so that we wouldn’t see people poisoned. They have a very sorry record on the environment.

People think about the abortion question and the position of the Republicans in the House—and certainly their vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan, as well as Congressman Todd Akin—is to say that women should not be allowed to get abortions except to save their lives, even if the pregnancy was the result of rape or incest. Congressman Akin tried to describe it “legitimate rape” as opposed to just “rape.” So they want to take away a women’s right to an abortion under certain circumstances. 

They’re even going after contraception, which is amazing to me that contraception should be controversial. If people are against abortion they should welcome family planning and contraception, yet the Republicans have tried to deny Planned Parenthood funding for contraception. They’re not allowed to use government funds for their abortion services; that’s a separate enterprise by Planned Parenthood.

[Republicans] have not been willing to pass the Violence Against Women Act. They fought against the Lilly Ledbetter Act, which would give equal pay for women. They don’t think the fact that most of the people who have been discriminated against from getting health insurance have been women because a lot of insurance companies look at being pregnant as a pre-existing medical condition and have denied women health care for that reason. They don’t want to stop the discrimination against women, who get charged higher rates for insurance because they may get pregnant, they may get breast cancer, they may get other diseases.

[Republicans are] trying to take away preventative services like breast and cervical cancer screening programs, which I authored into law years ago, which are so essential to stop cancer early. It’s a scary record of how they handle women’s issues and if they had control what they would like to pass into law.

Patch: Your birthday is Sept. 12. Any special plans?

Waxman: I am going to be in Washington. We have votes that day. I know that evening there are two things going on. One is the MS Society dinner, which my wife and I will be attending. My wife Jan has been very involved in the MS Society. She has MS and she’s worked hard to raise money to help stamp out MS. So I’ll be doing my job and helping a good cause. 

This interview has been edited and condensed. In  of Patch’s interview with Rep. Waxman, the congressman discussed the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare, health insurance coverage at both the federal and state levels, and the Westside Subway Extension.

Stay tuned to Patch for a two-part interview with 33rd Congressional District candidate Bill Bloomfield, a small business owner who is running on the Independent ticket.

AJ Willmer September 10, 2012 at 03:15 PM
Very good interview, both parts 1 and 2. Explains why I am proud to have Henry Waxman as my Representative.
Marie Cunningham (Editor) September 10, 2012 at 03:52 PM
Thank you for reading it! It is rather lengthy... Best, Marie
Dan Charney September 10, 2012 at 04:04 PM
We need to stop doing business with China- all of it - so they undercut the price- why did we allow that? Why don't we have agreements with those that get government loans to support their products?
Wolfman September 10, 2012 at 05:00 PM
Vote Waxman Out as he has been their too long
Glenn E Grab September 10, 2012 at 05:23 PM
Waxman's a typical Liberal.....when asked about Solyndra, he blames the Chinese...the Obama Administration knew Solyndra was going to fail, the Bush people had already done a study which predicted the failure on the very month whebn it happened, Bush turned it down, Obama funded Solyndra anyway....also, weak reporting by Marie Cunningham, she should have asked a follow up question about Solyndra's failure and why the Obama Administration went ahead with it when they knew it was doomed to fail...Jenna Chandler would never have let this get by her...
Glenn E Grab September 10, 2012 at 05:46 PM
also, Waxman called the money lost on Solyndra "loan guarantee" that we lost....we didn't lose it, we were stuck with it Waxman tried to pretend it wasn't $550 million we, the people,lost, it was just a "loan guarantee"....Marie Cunningham let him get off the hook, again no follow-up question......Solyndra was like co-signing for a car loan for a friend that you know has a drug problem...it never works out well for anybody...except the loan company....they end up with the money and you're stuck with the worthless vehicle your doper ex-friend totaled in a car crash...
Marie Cunningham (Editor) September 11, 2012 at 12:27 PM
@Glenn E Grab Waxman already answered why he believed Solyndra had failed. Further, I do not know that the Obama Administration went ahead with Solyndra funding on the assumption that it was doomed to lose money. Therefore the questions you would have me pose are rather moot. Best, Marie
Arthur Christopher Schaper September 11, 2012 at 04:10 PM
Visit "Waxman Watch" -- waxmanwatch.blogspot.com I have spoken with voters throughout the district. The South Bay is saying "NO!" to Waxman! They are more and more keen to getting this guy out! People in Santa Monica, too, have had enough!
Glenn E Grab September 11, 2012 at 04:26 PM
Marie, your ignorance of the facts is no excuse....look it up, it's true...you should have known about this before you even asked Waxman any questions regarding Solyndra....Bush's people turned it down, Obama's went with it, because Solyndra's founders were big donors to his campaign and the Democratic Party...with our tax money, of course...as a reporter, you're supposed to investigate and research before you interview someone, not just believe everything they say....I'll bet if it had been a Republican you were interviewing you wouldn't have pandered to him, like you did with Waxman...
Glenn E Grab September 11, 2012 at 04:27 PM
bravo, the guy's a rubber stamp for anything left-wing...
V. Scheurich September 11, 2012 at 06:46 PM
The left wing money The President is drying up and here is why: http://therealrevo.com/blog/?p=83318
Marie Cunningham (Editor) September 12, 2012 at 01:22 AM
@Glenn E Garb Your evident dislike of liberals is certainly coming though in your commentary. The loan program that funded Solyndra was initiated by the Bush Administration in 2005 and approved by the Obama Administration in 2009. I am not ignorant of the facts. You WANT to blame Solyndra on the Obama Administration as you are clearly biased against Democrats. Did you know that Solyndra sought a second loan in 2009 and was turned down—during the Obama Administration? Have fun at the polls! Best, Marie

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