Transcript: Heinrich’s First Senate Floor Speech

Thank you, Mr. President for the opportunity to address this chamber today.

Mr. President, I am a strong believer that innovation is what America does best. 

That boundless wonder and curiosity can lead to revolutionary discoveries.

That diligence and optimism can break down barriers.

Mr. President I’m a believer that technology, and more importantly the scientific method, are how we can best meet many of our 21st century challenges.

And this is indeed a time of great challenge for our nation.

There is no question that it is easier to govern in a time of peace and prosperity than in a time of economic recovery and global conflict.

But Americans are no strangers to adversity. Time and again we have shown our ingenuity and our perseverance.

In fact, the very character of our nation has been shaped by hard work and innovation.

That is America’s story.

And I am certain that our capacity to deal with the challenges that we face, rests heavily on our ability to make policy that is driven by facts, by data, and yes, Mr. President, by science.

Historically, America has responded to challenges with transformative innovations like electricity, radio and television, transistors, silicon computer processors, and the rise of the modern distributed Internet.  

In my own state of New Mexico, we have built our economy around some of the greatest innovations of the modern era.

New Mexico Tech, the University of New Mexico, and New Mexico State University offered advanced degrees in chemistry and engineering as early as the 1890’s.

After World War I, Kirtland, Holloman and Cannon military bases in our state provided supreme training conditions for the new flight wing of the Army that would eventually be called the United States Air Force.

During World War II, New Mexico was home to the Manhattan Project, which installed Los Alamos National Labs, White Sands Missile Range, and Sandia National Laboratories.

Through the collaboration of its major defense and research installations, New Mexico became the birthplace of technologies that have changed the world.

And over time, our national laboratories, universities, and defense installations have proven to be invaluable to research and development, not only for our state, but for our entire nation.  

They led key research efforts during the Space Race and continued to develop modern defense and computer technology in the Digital Age, often, Mr. President, partnering with private sector innovators like Intel Corporation.   

As innovators in technology transfer, Sandia National Labs and Intel came together on the development of radiation-hardened microprocessors for space and defense applications.

And with the help of our state universities, New Mexico will continue to lead the way in low carbon energy technology.

The University of New Mexico Taos campus is a prime example of the public and private sectors working together to employ cleaner energy.

Their campus is home to one of the largest solar arrays in the state. A project that was successful thanks to a partnership with Los Alamos National Labs and Kit Carson Electric Cooperative. 

On the research front, Santa Fe Community College and New Mexico State University are developing algal biofuels as a source of liquid renewable energy. 

In addition to our universities benefitting from technology transfer, Los Alamos National Labs’ Labstart Initiative is also promoting growth in the private sector.

This program encourages future entrepreneurs to start businesses using technology first developed within our national labs.

So far, the lab to market strategy has brought $20 million in revenue for the 19 companies that have started under the initiative.

Today, the technology industry, both public and private, supports nearly 50,000 jobs in our small state, in over 2,000 technology establishments throughout New Mexico.

It is our history of innovation and new technology that drive New Mexico’s economy and our contributions to this great nation.

And as our country faces the challenges of bringing our economy back from a devastating recession, and reversing the effects of climate change, we must embrace the challenge and lead the world in innovation and clean energy, using science as our guide to setting public policy. 

Yet during my time in Washington, too often I’ve seen scientific integrity undermined and scientific research politicized in an effort to advance ideological or purely political agendas.

I have watched as too many of us in elected office, moved from being entitled to our own opinions--something which our democracy relies upon-- to embracing the belief that we are somehow entitled to our own facts.

Mr. President, none of us are entitled to our own facts.

As someone who began my adult life studying engineering, I believe we must better use science as a guiding tool in our deliberations on how to set public policy…

Whether for our national security, our energy independence, or our nation’s ability to compete in the global economy, our efforts and our solutions should be rooted in fact and driven by the best available science.   


But also, Mr. President, with a keen eye to the innovations that are transforming our future before our very eyes.

By investing in education, in research, in engineering, in our teachers and in our professors, we will lead the world in scientific and technological innovation.  

Even in this challenging fiscal environment, we MUST make the investments that have paid dividends for our nation time and time again.

My own path to scientific inquiry began in the First Grade.  I had a teacher named Mrs. Taylor, who saw in me a thirst for knowledge and discovery.  

She fed that desire, even when it meant considerable extra work and planning supplemental curriculum that wasn’t part of her daily work plan. 

She was that kind of teacher… and I hope some of you had one... who would take the extra time to ensure that a student with a hunger to read never ran out of new books to explore. 

Or that a student interested in fossils and dinosaurs had extra projects and materials to feed their interest.

I can honestly say that if it weren’t for Mrs. Taylor, my own life would have taken some very different turns.

When we ensure that every student has a “Mrs. Taylor,” we ensure that our children won’t just spend their afternoons playing on tablets and smartphones, but that they will have the education to grow up designing and building the next generation of technology and devices.  

We should harness their natural intellectual curiosity to solve humankind’s greatest challenges.  

From the classrooms of our elementary schools…

To the research labs of our universities…

To the grounds of our national laboratories and research institutes…

To the offices of venture capital firms and innovative tech start-ups…

The frontiers of human knowledge can be boundless, and if we harness them, we’ll continue to fuel our nation’s prosperity.

No area of innovation and science will be more important than in our nation’s ability to tackle climate change and to lead the world in clean energy technology.

America can and must become truly energy independent, and we must move from traditional carbon intensive energy sources to ever cleaner alternatives. 

Investing in cleaner energy will create quality jobs, and protect our nation from the serious economic and strategic risks associated with our reliance on foreign energy.

And I must take the opportunity to say how impressed I am with the current bipartisan efforts to embrace energy efficiency. 

Whether your goal is job creation, economic vitality, saving consumers’ money, or lowering your carbon footprint, conservation is not only conservative, but effective. 

Getting the most out of every unit of energy we use should be a concern at all levels of government--- state, federal and local--and for community-based organizations as well.

Mr. President, I’ve spent a lot of time traveling across my home state of New Mexico highlighting how innovation and investment in new energy technology can help create good jobs and grow our economy.

New Mexico is home to…

• EMCORE Corporation, a leading provider of compound semiconductor-based components, who recently deployed a solar system that uses solar cells with a conversion efficiency of sunlight to electricity of 39%, a remarkable feat.

• Sapphire Energy in Columbus, New Mexico, who is producing drop-in crude oil from algae, sunlight, and CO2.

• And energy storage projects in Los Alamos and Albuquerque that are demonstrating smart-grid technology with solar PV storage fully integrated into a utility power grid.

And these are just a few examples.

It’s clear that New Mexico is already capitalizing on a diversified but rapidly changing, innovating energy sector.

To help the nation transition to cleaner sources of energy, I am supporting efforts to streamline permitting for renewable energy projects while still protecting access to our public lands for families and sportsmen to enjoy.

Another key to further development of clean energy is to alleviate the bottlenecks in the electric power grid.

New Mexico is an energy exporter, and I am working to spur substantial renewable energy development by adding the transmission capacity that will allow us to export clean energy to markets in Arizona and California.   

Through American ingenuity, we can unleash the full potential of cleaner homegrown energy and put Americans to work while we’re at it.

At the same time, we can and must lead the world in addressing our climate crisis.

Climate change is no longer theoretical, Mr. President…

It’s one of those stubborn facts that doesn’t go away just because we choose to ignore it.  

In New Mexico we're seeing bigger fires, drier summers, and less snowpack in the winter.  

And as I speak these words, our high elevation forests are burning.  

And with humidity levels lower, and temperatures higher, we are dealing with fire behavior that is markedly more intense than in the past.  

Over the last three years alone, we have seen the two largest fires in New Mexico’s history.   

With elevated temperatures, studies at Los Alamos National Labs predict that three quarters of our Evergreen Forests in New Mexico might be gone by 2050. 

At the same time, we are experiencing our driest two year period since record-keeping started in the mid-19th century.  

Flows in the Rio Grande are less then 20 percent of normal.  Since the first of the year, central New Mexico, where I live, has seen less than one inch of rain.

This is a tragedy, and we must start taking active steps to reverse it--we owe that to our children. We owe that to the next generation.

In 1961, President John F. Kennedy made a bold claim that an American would walk on the moon by the end of the decade.  

Eight years later, Mr. President, Neil Armstrong did just that.

Today, we face a similarly audacious challenge when it comes to addressing climate change.

We need to think big, Mr. President and we need to execute. 

We did that when President Kennedy said we’d go to the moon. And we made it happen, as Americans.

Climate change is our greatest future challenge and we must commit to solving it within the decade.

I am by nature an optimist.  I have seen this great nation defy the odds again, again and again.

And, yes, I believe compromise and even bipartisanship are possible. 

Our country is strong because of rigorous debate—but debate doesn’t mean endless gridlock.

Despite our differences, there are issues where both parties can come together and find common ground.  

Using science to rise to our nation’s challenges, whatever those may be, should be one of those areas. 

It is one I am committed to, Mr. President…

And I look forward to working with my colleagues so that our nation, and that my state of New Mexico, can achieve the greatness and the future that all of our children deserve.

Thank you, Mr. President.  I yield the floor.