The United States must step up its efforts on renewable energy to compete with China and other countries for global leadership, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Wednesday after returning from a nine-day, taxpayer-funded trip to Asia with nine of his colleagues.
The Nevada Democrat said the trip, his first visit to China in a quarter-century, offered "an unmistakable reminder just how hard we have to work to make America competitive with the rest of the world," particularly on manufacturing and energy.
Reid said he used to be proud that he could see dozens of construction cranes in Las Vegas and other fast-growing areas in Nevada, but said that in China, "they have 26 cranes in one block. And they have block after block of cranes."
Reid led a bipartisan delegation of 10 senators on a trip that included meetings with top Chinese government officials and business leaders. The delegation of seven Democrats and three Republicans met with Vice President Xi Jinping, widely touted as China's next leader, as well as China's foreign minister, vice premier and central bank president.
The group also toured renewable energy plants in Chengdu, a city of 14 million seen as a leader in that field, and stopped in Macau, a former Portuguese colony where Las Vegas gaming giants operate major resorts.
In a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Reid said he was impressed with China's aggressive investments in renewable energy. China's actions compel the United States to keep pace, he said.
China, which is notoriously polluted and heavily dependent on fossil fuels such as coal and oil, is investing in clean energy not just because it's good for the environment, but because it's good for its economy, Reid said.
"China knows that clean energy creates jobs and, in reducing its reliance on oil, makes it more secure," he said.
With its vast renewable energy resources, the United States "can't afford not to be a globally competitive leader in this important area," Reid said.
Reid said he met with leaders of several Chinese companies, including A-Power Energy Generation Systems Ltd., which is working with several U.S. partners to build a wind turbine manufacturing plant in the Las Vegas area that could employ about 1,000 people. The plant would be one of the largest manufacturing employers in southern Nevada.
Reid said the trip's "primary focus" was to strengthen America's manufacturing sectors and urge a level playing field for U.S. businesses in China.
The delegation included Democratic Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Chuck Schumer of New York, Barbara Boxer of California, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Michael Bennet of Colorado, and Republican Sens. Richard Shelby of Alabama, Johnny Isakson of Georgia and Mike Enzi of Wyoming.
Reid's office said no cost estimate was available for the trip, which ran April 16-25 and included several Reid staffers, two U.S. Army escorts and a security detail. Jon Summers, a spokesman for Reid who went on the trip, said spouses also traveled with the delegation but paid for additional expenses in accordance with Senate rules.
Tom Schatz, president of the watchdog group Citizens Against Government Waste, said he did not oppose the trip but that costs should have been pre-approved, with a public agenda and short follow-up report required.
Schatz noted that senators and their spouses made side trips to Macau _ home to dozens of casinos _ and Hong Kong, world-renowned for its shopping.
"In this case at least, senators gambled with their own money, as opposed to the taxpayers' money, which they do every day," Schatz said.