LOS ANGELES — Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said Thursday he wants to find financing mechanisms for climate-friendly infrastructure projects that work as well as those established for old technologies.
The former President, his Clinton Global Initiative, the West Coast Infrastructure Exchange, and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti hosted a meeting Thursday at L.A.'s city hall to propel public-private partnerships aimed at infrastructure projects that protect the environment.
The conference sought to bring private industry and government leaders together.
It was the fifth infrastructure "meeting" Clinton organized involving American mayors looking at solutions to the financing quandary.
The first half of the day was taken up by panel discussions involving Clinton; Garcetti; Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed; Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers; John Kitzhaber, Oregon's governor; and California Treasurer Bill Lockyer.
The second half of the day had break-out sessions for the couple hundred attendees to brainstorm solutions.
Clinton told a packed Los Angeles City Council chamber that the single most frustrating thing when it comes to investment in energy-efficient infrastructure projects is that "we are organized toward protecting yesterday versus creating tomorrow."
"It is insane that you can get all the money you want to build an old-fashioned utility plant," Clinton said, such as a nuclear plant that takes 30 years to finance while alternative energy projects that never require financing beyond 17 years are so hard to fund.
"It's the absence of effective financing, because it is all organized around projects of yesterday," Clinton said.
The system is structured in a way that encourages projects that are harmful to the environment at a time when people are concerned about environmental impacts and want more jobs, he said.
"It is the 21st Century, we need to move away from sustainable and environmental projects being subjected to the same ghetto-ized policy," Garcetti said.
Garcetti said when he re-interviewed the city's 37 department heads after taking office in July 2013 one of four goals he established was the adoption of innovative technologies.
Frequently he heard from department heads that environmental technologies did not really apply to their mission.
For instance, he explained to the fire chief that he has an opportunity to look at ways to make the city's fleet of fire engines more environmentally friendly as he replaces existing fire trucks.
"Public and private capital don't meet well," Garcetti said.
He would like to see that change.
The Los Angeles mayor pointed to discussion of a rail project connecting west Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley with mass transit, which would require blasting through the Sepulveda Pass. Currently, there is a two-lane local road that accesses the tunnel. The other driving option is the heavily-congested Interstate 405.
A project running through the Sepulveda Pass is too expensive to be funded solely with public money, Garcetti said.
It will take a national infrastructure bank or the use of federal Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act loans to make that project happen, according to the Los Angeles mayor.
The willingness of public pension funds and labor funds to invest has been one bridge to getting infrastructure projects done, Clinton said.
The country has trillions of dollars in infrastructure needs and pension funds have trillions to invest, Clinton said.
Lockyer said California's giant pension funds, the California Public Employees' Retirement System, and the California State Teachers' Retirement System, both have committed a segment of their investments to such infrastructure projects.
"They have unallocated money, because they can't find deals," Lockyer said.