Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Energy Bill - Bingaman Amendment

Posted on June 13, 2007

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I think now would be a good time for a former Governor to enter the discussion with my two distinguished colleagues. I think the biggest compliment I have been paid in the short time I have been a Senator was by some Washington insider who said, "Well, the problem with Lamar is he hasn't gotten over being Governor yet." I have said to my constituents in Tennessee, "If I ever do, it is time to bring me home." As I listened to the discussion between the Senator from New Mexico and the Senator from Idaho, I was greatly encouraged by the discussion of the Senator from Idaho until the very last part. I think there should be an opt-out. Why should there not be? What wisdom is there here in Washington D.C. that is not there in state and local government? When I was in Tennessee, I thought I was at least as smart as the Congress of the United States. I woke up every day trying to do what was best for my State. I fought for better schools, clean water, clean air, raising family incomes, paying teachers more. If I had to wait on Washington to do it, we would never have done it. I knew of a lot of people who flew to Washington and suddenly got smart, but I didn't think they were smarter than we were. On issues of clean air, we Tennesseans, for example, feel like we care about it a lot. I live right next to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I grew up there. Five generations of my family are buried there. We have a great big clean-air problem. I might say, both Senators from New Mexico are two of the very finest in our body in terms of their ability, intelligence, dedication, and purposes. I happen to have a little disagreement on this issue with Senator Bingaman from New Mexico, but let me go back to my point. Growing up and living at the edge of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park makes me very aware of clean air and the need for it, which is why, 2 or 3 years ago, with Senator Carper, I began to work in the Congress for stronger standards so we could do more in Tennessee. That is why, as Governor of Tennessee, I pushed ahead for more and why, as a citizen of Tennessee, I went to the Tennessee Valley Authority and encouraged them to adopt standards that would get more of the sulfur out of the air and more of the nitrogen out of the air. That is why I have encouraged the Governor of Tennessee to go further than the Federal Government is in getting mercury out of power plant emissions into the air, 90 percent instead of 70 percent. That is why I have been meeting with mayors and local county officials in Tennessee to clean the air. We care about it in Tennessee. It is not necessarily true that it takes wisdom from Washington to cause us to want to have clean air or carbon-free air. Witness the fact that we are already on the honor roll of states leading the way in emissions-free electricity generation. I see the Senator from Vermont, right in front of me, presiding. He should be very proud of Vermont as his state is No. 1 in the country in terms of carbon-free emissions. Vermont generates its electricity from forms that are free of carbon emissions. I assume that among Senator Bingaman's goals in the energy legislation before us is to encourage carbon-free emissions so that we can deal with climate change. I happen to be one of those who believe climate change is a problem and that human beings are a big part of the problem. I am ready to help deal with the problem. But I think that we already are helping in Tennessee -- that is my point. In this case, we need Washington to recognize what States are doing to solve this problem and not assume that a one-size-fits-all idea which might be good for New Mexico, or which might be good for North Dakota, also is good for Tennessee. Tennessee is 16th in terms of carbon-free emissions. In other words, we produce about 40 percent of our electricity today from nuclear power and from hydroelectric power. All forms of power have their issues. Hydroelectric power means you dam up rivers. Some people don't like that. I have some problems with that, too, sometimes. With nuclear power, we have to get rid of the waste, and we have not solved that problem yet. But the one problem we have solved with hydro and nuclear is that they are clean in terms of emission -- no carbon, no mercury, no sulfur, no nitrogen. That is 40 percent of the power in the Tennessee Valley Authority region, and in the State of Tennessee. I might say: I have a great idea. I am now in Washington. I am not Governor anymore. I want to require everybody in America to have a 40-percent emissions-free energy standard, and the way they should do it is to have 33 percent nuclear power and 7 percent hydropower because that is my idea. That is the way we do it. So, North Dakota, have at it, start building nuclear plants, start damming up whatever river you have left. I have an idea. That is the way you should it. I wouldn't say that because I believe in federalism. I believe that a lot of the best ideas come up from States toward the Federal Government. I have noticed how, over time, California has led the country in terms of clean air and clean water. I know Senator Bingaman's bill would permit us to go further in some ways, but it does not in other ways. What happens with the amendment from the Senator from New Mexico is this: Even though we are on the honor roll in Tennessee, and getting better -- I mean, not only did the TVA just reopen the Unit 1 reactor at the Brown?s Ferry Nuclear Plant, it is operating today at 100 percent capacity. I will say a little more in a minute, if my colleagues will tolerate it. The one wind farm we have in the whole Southeastern United States, the Buffalo Mountain Project in Tennessee, operated 7 percent of the time in August when we are all sitting on our porches, sweating and fanning ourselves and wanting our air-conditioners on, so wind energy doesn't help us in our part of the country. So we are at 40 percent emissions-free electricity generation. So how about a 40-percent portfolio standard for the whole country, with 33 percent nuclear power and 7 percent hydropower? That probably wouldn't be fair to North Dakota. It might not be fair to some other States that have, as the brown color indicates on this chart here, a good bit of wind. They can use wind. They like wind. They don't mind having great big 300-, 400-, 500-foot white towers with flashing red lights you can see for 20 miles. If they want to see them, I guess that is their business. If they want them and it makes sense out there, fine. That is their State. But no more would I impose our formula for being clean on them than should they impose their formula for being clean on us. That is the problem with the Bingaman amendment, I respectfully suggest. Here we are on the honor roll for being clean. We are getting better. TVA is thinking we might open a second nuclear reactor, maybe a third nuclear reactor. Maybe within 10 years -- which in energy-producing time is a short period of time -- we would be up to 40 percent of nuclear power, 7 or 8 percent of hydropower, and we might be in favor of making everybody do a 47-percent renewable portfolio standard based on our formula. We hope by that time that biomass, which is permitted under the amendment from Senator Bingaman, as I understand it, will increase in Tennessee. We have a great capacity, we believe, for biomass, especially as fuel for cars. The President of the University of Tennessee was here this morning -- Dr. Peterson -- talking with me about a demonstration project they have, about ethanol plants that are planned there. We are right in the center of the nation?s population. We have a lot of land. We have a good agricultural base. Switchgrass could replace the tobacco income we used to have in Tennessee. We used to have 60,000 to 80,000 farms with a little independent income up in the mountains like you have in the great northern kingdom of Vermont. That would be great for us, so we hope biomass really works. We like solar. I am the sponsor of the solar tax credit that passed Congress 2 years ago. It is not enough, but I sponsored it. I got an award from the solar industry for being for that renewable power. I also worked with the Farm Bureau on renewable power called biomass. We have the largest production plant for solar technology in America in Memphis in the Sharp plant, producing the solar panels you put on your roof. We hope all this works. We even hope there might be maybe a solar thermal steam plant someday. It is not there today. TVA needs 31,000 or 32,000 megawatts of power every year to provide us with clean, reliable, inexpensive electricity, and the potential for solar with the present technology, the TVA says, is less than a Megawatt. The solar industry would say it is more. What if it is five times more? What if it is 10 megawatts, or 20 megawatts? There is not sufficient potential in the next 10 years for solar and wind in the southeast -- which I will show in a moment we have virtually none of -- to meet this idea. So, what do we get to do? We get to pay a big tax, a great big tax. What good does the tax do us? It comes out of our pockets. We send it to Washington, and we never see it again. How much is it? It is $410 million a year, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority's scientists, to meet Senator Bingaman?s 15 percent renewable portfolio standard. That is real money. By the end of the ramp-up time in the Bingaman amendment, which is the year 2020, it would cost, according to the Tennessee Valley Authority, which supplies Tennessee with electricity, it would cost the ratepayers $410 million to do what, to pay a tax to Washington, DC. It wouldn't clean our air. We are already on the honor roll for emission-free electricity production. It would just increase our cost. In fact, that money might come from money we might otherwise spend to clean our air. But here is what we could do with $410 million. We could give away 205 million $2 light bulbs and have the energy savings equivalent to two nuclear power reactors, or it would be the equivalent of 3,700 great big wind turbines that would stretch along all the scenic ridge lines in east Tennessee, and nobody would come to east Tennessee to visit, to see our mountains. Most people who live there would go hide under a rug so we wouldn't have to see these white towers with flashing red lights that you can see from 10 or 12 miles away instead of the mountains. We could pay the electric bill for every Tennessean for a month and a half each year with $410 million or we could purchase a new scrubber. We have some coal-fired powerplants. About 60 percent of our electricity comes from coal. TVA has done a fairly good job of cleaning up the air with that, but they have a long way to go. Sulfur scrubbers are the main thing they need. They are very expensive, and we could put a new one on every 9 months with $410 million cost per year. That is what we could better do with $410 million rather than send it up here to Washington, DC. Here is a letter I got today from the mayor of Chattanooga, TN, Harold DePriest -- not the mayor, president and chief executive officer of the power company in Chattanooga. I probably should let Senator Corker read this letter since he used to be the mayor in Chattanooga. But he says: The Bingaman amendment, if enacted into law, would have an enormous adverse economic impact on our community. It would result in a two-cent per kilowatt-hour tax on all electric kilowatt hours that are used in the Chattanooga EPB service area. We have projected the cost burden that will be imposed upon those in our service area during the years 2010 through 2020. It appears the local government, local schools, the universities, businesses and all citizens (including those in fixed incomes and having a difficult financial time as it is) will have to pay the additional sum of more than $133,000,000...over 10 years for their electrical service. Those are the workers, and those are the businesses. When businesses come to Tennessee -- when Nissan comes or Saturn comes, when Eastman thinks about staying -- what is one of the things they want to know? Can we get reliable, low-cost electric power? Today, we can say yes. Every time we add an unnecessary charge on that rate, we drive jobs out of Tennessee and we cause people who cannot afford their bills to pay them. I believe Senator Bingaman would say, and I will let him say it on his own behalf, as we develop more renewable power or other forms of power -- I am a big subscriber to this ? we bring down the price of natural gas. I helped introduce a bill called the Natural Gas Price Reduction Act, and I worked with Senators Bingaman and Domenici to try to stimulate growth in other forms of power to bring down the price of natural gas. So he is absolutely right. If we create new forms of energy, we will have less reliance on natural gas, and we want less reliance on natural gas. We don't want to be using natural gas to make electricity. As we say often: It is like burning the antiques to make a fire. So he is right about that. Why shouldn't we say but one other form is nuclear power. It is clean, it is reliable, and it is another form to consider. And the more we have it, the less natural gas we have to use. I also have a letter from Huntsville. This is in Alabama. I would not want you to think I was only arguing on behalf of one State. Huntsville, Alabama. "Dear Senator Shelby," in this case. The letter goes on to talk about the severe penalties and the extra costs and the objection they have to this new tax. I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record at this point the two letters. Mr. President, I see some other Senators on the floor. I see Senator Domenici, Senator DeMint, and there are other Senators here. But I want to wind up my comments in this way with a couple of pictures to summarize the point. It is a laudable goal to move us as rapidly as we can to renewable energy. But we should allow the States to move in ways that fit those States. So I think there should be an opt-out for States. I think Tennessee should be able to say: We have a 40-percent clean power standard, but it is nuclear and hydro. We are working hard on biomass. As soon as we get that going, we will have 50 percent. But we do not have sufficient wind resources not located in our scenic mountains. In addition, wind is enormously subsidized. We will be getting more to that this year. Let's put up this chart. TVA looked all around for a place to locate the first and only utility scale wind energy project in the southeast. First they looked down on Lookout Mountain. The people there spent 30 years restoring the natural beauty to this historic location. They did not want to see a 400-foot tower they could see from the whole area up there. So they finally put it on Buffalo Mountain, which is also a beautiful place. Here is what it looks like. They had hoped the wind would blow so that it would produce 35 to 38 percent of the turbines rated capacity. It operates 19 to 24 percent of the time; 7 percent in August. What most people miss with wind power is you use it or lose it. So if the wind is not blowing, your air conditioner is off. Even though you have these large wind towers all up and down every ridge top in Tennessee, even if you had them, you would still need a dependable powerplant. Wind turbines do not replace your base load. Here is what it looks like in West Virginia, which is north of us. It is a different point, but this makes strip mining look like a decorative art. I mean this ruins, in my view, the tops of mountains. Why would we insist on that with Federal requirements to have a State that is already on the honor roll for clean power? There are other ways to do this rather than raise our rates, raise our taxes, drive jobs away, or ruin our landscape. I appreciate the chance to talk about this. Wind already is highly subsidized too. The best facts I have suggest we will be spending $11.5 billion between 2007 and 2016, already obligated in taxpayers' money, to build these big wind turbines in Tennessee, which in Tennessee operate 7 percent of the time in August. They do not produce much power either. There are proposals on the Senate floor to extend the federal subsidies for wind power. So back to this wind project, TVA pays 6.5 cents for every kilowatt-hour produced by this wind project. The taxpayers pay them another 2.9 cents, in effect, for the production tax credit; that is 9.4 cents for each one here, and this would have the whole Southeast running around looking for wind developers to buy further credits from. We should all retire from the Senate and go in the business, it looks like, if that is what we want to do. But here is my main point, let's respect Federalism, let's honor those States that are on the honor roll. Let's honor Senator Bingaman for wanting to encourage renewable energy. But Senator Domenici, I would respectfully say, has a better idea. He would allow new nuclear power, for example, to be a part of the mix. My final comment would be this: As climate change has become more of a concern, and people say we are going to have to deal with it in this generation, we have looked for ways to create large amounts of clean energy. There are only two or three ways to do that. The first is conservation and efficiency. We have barely scratched the surface. But the second is nuclear power. Seventy percent of our carbon-free electricity in America today is nuclear power. So why would we exclude that from any standard that allegedly wants us to have carbon-free energy? It does not make much sense to me. I respectfully oppose the suggestion of the Senator from New Mexico, Mr. Bingaman. I honor his service here. I honor his motives here. But I think he has a solution looking for a problem. The problem is, we do not have any wind in our part of the State, and a wind portfolio standard simply does not work. It puts a big tax on us we do not need to pay, do not want to pay, does not do us any good. I yield the floor. # # #