Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - More Oil Exploration

Posted on July 15, 2008

Mr. President, the majority leader, Senator Reid, has spoken about an energy roadmap. He talked about it on Friday. He talked about it again today. I am glad he is talking about it. I want to make a suggestion to him, which I hope he can accept. I am sure that in his home State, Nevada, as well as in my home State, Tennessee, the first thing out of anybody's mouth has to do with gasoline prices. I try to read on the floor of the Senate regularly letters that have been e-mailed to me from Tennesseans whose lives are changed by the $4 and $4.25 gasoline. What Senator Reid said in his remarks was that he has an energy roadmap. I say, with great respect, that I am afraid his roadmap is only half a roadmap because he is willing to use less energy but not willing--as far as I can tell--to find more energy. In 1961, President Kennedy said: Let's go to the Moon in 10 years. But if the astronauts had a roadmap that took them only halfway there, they would be floating in space. That is where I am afraid we would be as a country if we only do half our job as we address $4 gasoline. The problem that we have is a very simple one, even though a difficult one. It has to do with economics 101, the law of supply and demand. We have low supplies and more demand because around the world, the Chinese, the Indians, and others are growing wealthier and using more oil, from which gasoline is made. Mr. President, the only real solution to the $4, $4.25 gasoline prices is to find more and use less--find more, as well as use less. Now, the majority leader's suggestions that he mentioned--and I don't think they are part of the bill yet--include some very promising ideas. Curb speculation. We on the Republican side have introduced legislation that would put 100 more cops on the beat to curb speculation. Say that oil produced in America should be used here. That is what is happening today. Increase our focus on renewable energy; renewable energy is important. It is only 3 percent of the total amount of electricity that we use in the United States today. We have a long way to go before solar, wind, and other energy of that kind can be a major part of what we need to do. Most of that is devoted to electricity. Of course, that is important. On the Republican side, we have supported that. But what we have done on our side is introduce legislation that would do both: find more and use less. We don't do that with the hope that we will have a Republican bill because we don't want to see a Democratic bill either. We want an American bill. We believe our legislation deserves--and will earn--Democratic support. In fact, Democratic Senators have voted for some of the provisions in our legislation before. In terms of finding more oil, we propose allowing deep sea exploration--give a State the option to drill for oil, if the State wishes to do that, and then take 37 percent of that money and put it into the State treasury for universities, beach nourishment, lowering taxes, or whatever. Put 12 1/2 percent into the Land and Water Conservation Fund and half to the Federal Treasury. We could unlock, conservatively, 1 million barrels of oil a day if we were to allow deep sea exploration. Today the President has taken off the Presidential moratorium on deep sea exploration. So it is up to us in the Congress to say: Will we or will we not find more oil by exploring in the deep seas off our coast? Two, we have suggested in our legislation that we take the moratorium off oil shale development in four Western States. That could produce, over time, 2 million barrels a day. Just those two ideas--drilling offshore and oil shale--would increase by one-third the American production of oil, almost all of which we use here. So that is the supply part. We are also interested in using less. The most promising way to do that, I believe--and 44 of us have agreed, and I will bet many do on the other side--has to do with plug-in electric cars and trucks. When I first started talking about that, people thought I had been out in the sun too long. In fact, Nissan, General Motors, Toyota, and Ford are all going to be selling us cars that we can plug in at night--hybrid cars. Three quarters of us drive less than 40 miles a day, and I am one of those. I can drive back and forth to the Senate using very little gasoline, if any. We could electrify half of our fleet of cars and trucks in the United States. That would take time, but it would be a clear direction toward using less oil. With just those provisions I have talked about--finding more and using less--we could cut our oil imports in half. That would reduce your gas prices. If you are driving a plug-in electric vehicle, by the way, there is plenty of electricity. At night, while we are asleep, most utilities have plenty of cheap electricity they would sell us. You plug your car or truck in at night for just about the same amount of charge that your water heater would use, and you could fill up with 60 cents of electricity instead of $100 worth of gasoline. Just these three ideas--deep sea exploration, oil shale, and plug-in vehicles--would cut oil imports in half. We are ready to do that. We would like for the majority leader to bring to the floor of the Senate an energy bill that is directed toward reducing the price of gasoline. Let each Democratic Senator put up their best idea, and let the Republicans put up our best ideas. Let's have a debate and votes, and they would probably take 60 votes. We cannot get everything done before we leave in August, or even before October, but we can begin. From the day the United States of America--the third largest producer of oil and the user of a quarter of all of the oil in the world--finds more and uses less, the future expected price of oil will go down, and today's price of oil will stabilize and begin to go down. I say to my friend, the majority leader, as one Senator, I welcome his interest and attention to energy, and specifically to gasoline prices. We Republicans have offered--44 of us--a slimmed-down bill, a modest bill. We don't say drill everywhere offshore. We don't say drill in Alaska in this piece of legislation. We say give States the option, and lift the moratorium on oil shale. Make electric plug-in cars and trucks commonplace and cut our oil imports in half over time. That is the way to reduce gasoline prices. We hope if we are able in this Senate to act like a Senate and spend a week or two on this legislation and consider a number of amendments, we can come up with a result and we can go home to our constituents in August and say: Yes, we got a result. And when we come back in September, if we can do more, we will. When we come back in January, if we can do more, we will. Everybody in Tennessee is saying to me: Senator Alexander, why don't you get together and work something out? I would like to do that, Mr. President. I didn't come here to play politics, talk trash, or stick my fingers in the eyes of the other side. In my first speech on, for example, U.S. history, the majority leader, who was then the whip, was on the Senate floor, and he stood up and cosponsored my bill. Senator Kennedy got 20 cosponsors for it. It is now law today. Surely, if we can do that with U.S. history summer academies, we can do it with gasoline prices when it is the No. 1 issue. Last Tuesday we had a bipartisan breakfast that was attended by 14 Senators. We heard from Senators Conrad, Chambliss, Domenici, and Bingaman. We talked about what we could agree on that had to do with both finding more and using less. We cannot repeal the law of supply and demand. We know that mostly on the Republican side we talk about supply. Over on the Democratic side, they talk about demand. We have to put it together if we want to bring gasoline prices down. That is what we should be doing. I think that opportunity exists today. In that closed room last Tuesday--and there is another bipartisan breakfast in the morning--I heard some Senators say things such as: If we cannot deal with this across party lines, we don't deserve to be here. I think that is right, and most Americans feel that way. The majority leader has many issues that have to be dealt with in the next 2 or 3 weeks. I hope he can find a way to bring his best ideas to the floor and allow us to do the same. Let's bring up the debates and let's talk and let's vote and come to a result, and let's begin to lower gasoline prices. From the day the United States of America says to the world that we are going to find more American oil and we are going to use less oil, the expected price of oil and gas will begin to go down, and so will today's price of gas and oil go down.