Alexander to Propose a “New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence”

House Democratic Science Chairman Bart Gordon also to Address Bipartisan Meeting on May 9

Posted on April 30, 2008

***Oak Ridge speech to outline 5-year effort for clean air, climate change and “victory over blackmail” on oil and gas*** Senator Lamar Alexander (Tenn.), Chairman of the Senate Republican Conference, told a National Academy of Sciences meeting yesterday that on May 9 in Oak Ridge he will propose that the United States launch a new Manhattan Project – “a 5-year effort to put America firmly on the path to clean energy independence.” Oak Ridge is one of three “secret cities” that were the principal sites for the World War II Manhattan project whose purpose was to end the war by building an atomic bomb before Germany could do so,” Alexander said. Alexander told the Academy gathering on American competitiveness that the new goal should be like the World War II goal: “victory over blackmail.” “Instead of ending a war, the goal will be clean energy independence – so that we can deal with rising gasoline prices, electricity prices, clean air, climate change and national security – for our country first, and – because other countries have the same urgent needs and therefore will adopt our ideas – for the rest of the world. “By independence I do not mean that the United States would never buy oil from Mexico or Canada or Saudi Arabia. By independence I do mean that the United States could never be held hostage by any country for our energy supplies. “In 1942, many were afraid that the first country to build an atomic bomb could blackmail the rest of the world. The overwhelming challenge, in Manhattan Project veteran George Cowan’s words, was “the prospect of a Fascist world and the need to build a weapon so powerful that it would quickly guarantee victory. (see reverse) “Today, countries that supply oil and natural gas can blackmail the rest of the world. Today’s need is to create clean energy independence to quickly guarantee victory over that kind of extortion.” U.S. Representative Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Chairman of the House Science Committee, will also address the May 9 meeting which will be hosted by the Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Representative Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.), a senior House Appropriations Committee member whose district includes Oak Ridge. Gordon and Alexander were two of the four members of Congress whose request to the National Academies for ways to maintain America’s competitiveness became the “America COMPETES Act” which was enacted in 2007. Alexander said that bipartisan model is “a good model for how Congress and the next president should work on this overwhelming energy challenge.” He said the new Manhattan Project “should start now – voters didn’t send us here to take a vacation just because it’s a presidential year – and that specific recommendations should be ready for the new president and new Congress in January. Thus far this idea has been discussed but not acted upon, and it's high time for action.” Alexander said a concentration of brainpower directed toward an urgent national need is no new idea – but that “it is a good idea and especially fits the goal of clean energy independence.” The senator added, “This year Americans will pay nearly $500 billion overseas for oil – that’s $1,600 for each one of us – some of it to nations that are hostile to us or even trying to kill us by bankrolling terrorists. That weakens our dollar. It is half our trade deficit. It is forcing gasoline prices toward $4 a gallon and crushing family budgets. “Then there are the environmental consequences. If worldwide energy usage continues to grow as projected and fossil fuels continue to supply over 80 percent of that energy, humans would inject as much CO2 into the air from fossil fuel burning between 2000 and 2030 as they did between 1850 and 2000. We have plenty of coal to help achieve our energy independence, but no commercial way – yet – to capture the carbon from the coal, and we have not finished the job of controlling sulfur, nitrogen, and mercury emissions.” In addition the need to meet an overwhelming challenge, Alexander said other characteristics of the original Manhattan Project are suited to this new challenge. “It needs to proceed as fast as possible along several tracks to reach the goal. It needs presidential focus and bipartisan support in Congress. It needs centralized leadership. It is simply ‘too revolutionary to consider in the framework of old ideas.’ Most important, the Manhattan Project model starts with small, diverse groups of great minds.” The senator said the bipartisan effort with the national academies to produce the “America COMPETES Act” was also a good model for the new Manhattan Project. “We must place ourselves firmly on a path to clean energy independence – and in doing so, to make our jobs more secure, to help balance the family budget, to make our air cleaner and our planet safer and healthier – and to lead the world to do the same,” he said.