Speeches & Floor Statements

Colloquy Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander and Colleagues on Energy

Posted on July 30, 2008

Mr. DOMENICI. Mr. President, I understand that time is allotted to the two Senators, the senior Senator from Tennessee and Senator Pete Domenici, the old man who is leaving the Senate soon. I wish to tell the Senator from Tennessee, our new chairman of our Republican conference, what a great job he has done as we have considered whether we should produce more oil for Americans from American-owned resources. That has been an exciting 8 1/2 days. What disturbs the Senator from New Mexico is, even with the explanations the Senator from Tennessee and others have made, people the Senator has read about, the things he told us about in terms of what we ought to be finding and saving, we ought to be producing and conserving, and we ought to use our own resources, we have not been able to get meaningful amendments offered in the Senate to have a vote. I have come to the conclusion that there are some--perhaps more than I ever imagined--Democrats on the other side of the aisle who don't want to produce more American oil. I really didn't think that was possible, but I have come to that conclusion. I am not saying everybody. There are some who are working very hard on new ideas on how we can produce. But I believe the majority leader has been bugged, bothered, and pursued by those who don't want to let a vote because they don't want to produce any oil on the offshores of America even though there is a lot of it there and it belongs to us. Having said that, I wonder if the Senator will have a comment about statements that have been made by a couple of Democrats on the other side of the aisle who have said that there are Republicans who just want to drill, that is all they want to do, is drill for more oil. Do you know of any Republicans--you know the Republicans pretty well; that is why you have your job as chairman--do you know of any Republicans whose concern is nothing other than we drill for more oil? Mr. ALEXANDER. I would say that the Senator from New Mexico knows the answer to that. And, Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the Senator from New Mexico be allowed to proceed through our remaining time in a colloquy. The PRESIDING OFFICER. Without objection, it is so ordered. Mr. DOMENICI. I thank the Chair. Mr. ALEXANDER. So the answer is no, to the Senator from New Mexico, and I think it is important to go back to when we first started talking about this matter. I think it might be useful to the people who are watching the Senate and wondering how we do things--maybe they have been watching C-SPAN and thinking: Well, these Senators sure know how to make a lot of fine speeches. And that is what we have been doing for the last 10 days, making speeches. But we haven't been doing anything more. But that isn't what we have wanted to do or what we do want to do now. What we want is a serious debate on legislation to lower gas prices that looks at ways to find more and use less. The Senator from New Mexico is exactly right. We understand high gasoline prices are the product of a law we learned in economics 101. I don't know how the Senator from New Mexico did in economics 101. I imagine pretty well because he is one of our most intelligent Senators. But economics 101 says the price of a commodity, such as oil--or it might be hay or wheat or anything else--is determined by the supply as well as the demand. So what we said in our Republican caucus was that we wanted a balanced approach; that we wanted to increase the supply--``find more''--and we wanted to reduce the demand--``use less.'' So if I may say just for a moment, we do talk a lot about finding more. Mr. DOMENICI. Yes. Mr. ALEXANDER. Because that has become the issue between the two sides, really. We want to do both, and many of them don't. They want to use less, and we want to use less. But it is hard getting many of our Democratic friends to agree that even in the next 30 or 40 years we will need to use significant amounts of new American energy if we want to keep our lights on and drive our cars and heat our houses and have good jobs. It is hard for them to agree with that. But let me be very precise about our using less. Our ``finding more'' idea was really offshore drilling and oil shale, and our ``using less'' was plug-in electric vehicles. T. Boone Pickens thinks he has a pretty good plan, and he has bought a lot of television time to advertise it, and it is pretty simple: natural gas and windmills. Ours is about as simple: offshore drilling, oil shale, and plug-in cars and trucks. But let's talk about the ``use less'' part. That will do more for us than the ``find more'' part will. That is the Republican proposal. Mr. DOMENICI. Yes. Mr. ALEXANDER. We import, I believe, Senator Domenici, about 12 or 13 million barrels of oil a day. We use about 20 million barrels a day, or a quarter of all the oil in the world. So if we could find a way to use less, as well as find more, we could affect the price. I had a visit just this afternoon from the utility manager in Austin, TX, and we talked about plug-in electric vehicles--our way of using less. What I am trying to do is make the point that there is not anybody over here on this side of the aisle who just wants to drill alone. We know we have to use less. Now, why do we say plug-in cars and trucks? When I first started talking about that, people thought I had been out in the sun too long. I was far from the first to talk about it. Senator Hatch has introduced legislation on this issue, and it has been supported by a number of Democratic Senators as well. The director of the Austin, TX, utility started talking about it with me earlier today, and here is what he says can happen. In Austin, TX, they have about 1 million cars and light trucks in his utility district. His judgment is that they can get up to about 10 percent of those cars--100,000--on electricity, where you just plug them in at night at home, within about 5 to 8 years without much trouble. He believes it is a reasonable goal in Austin, TX, to get half of those million cars and trucks on electricity in 10 to 15 years. Now, Senator Domenici, if we could help the United States take half of our 240 million cars and plug them in instead of filling them up with gas, we could cut our import of foreign oil by 4 million barrels a day and stop sending money overseas. And that is our way of using less. So we want to use less. We have other ways to do that as well. The problem is, we can't persuade our friends on the other side of the aisle to find more because when we say offshore drilling, they say: No, we can't. If we say oil shale, they say: No, we can't. Even if we say nuclear power for plugging in our cars and trucks with clean energy, they say: Sorry, not a proponent of that. So the answer to your question is, no, we are not just for more drilling--we are all for the demand side and using less. We know that makes a difference. We would just like to have a debate and a bill about both, and we are for both. Unfortunately, our friends on the other side are not. It seems to me they are kind of repealing the supply half of the law of supply and demand. Mr. DOMENICI. I thank the Senator for the answer, and I want to repeat that supply and demand clearly is what affects the price. The truth is, anyone who thinks we don't have to use oil for a significant amount of time--I mean import it--is just not taking into consideration the reality that what we use most of this oil for is cars and trucks and airplanes and the like, and we just can't make a change overnight. The Senator just mentioned one great way to lessen that, and Austin has a well-planned idea that would take 15 to 20 years to do half, to get rid of half of the automobiles and substitute electric cars. But what are you going to do during the 15 years or 20? You are going to use cars, today at least, using crude oil. You are going to use gasoline. Mr. ALEXANDER. Then there is the other half of the cars and trucks that are presumably still running on gas. Mr. DOMENICI. You bet. Just so we make it clear, if there are Members of the Senate who don't want to let a vote occur on producing more oil because they don't think we need to produce more oil--and I can't imagine why, but some people just say no more carbon; some people say no more oil--they have to understand that we are going to be buying more oil whether we like it or not, unless we just stop driving or shut down America. It is going to continue to bleed us dry. So we didn't come down here after our majority leader offered an amendment, an amendment that he has been saying had an impact on the price of oil, if you can imagine that. It was an oil speculation bill. As we continue this debate, the majority leader's solution to an enormous energy crisis facing our Nation--and earlier today the majority leader gave a speech. I don't know if the Senator heard it. In that speech he said many things, but one of the things he said is that oil prices are going down because the Senate is debating--debating--oil speculation. Now, the Senator from Tennessee and I really work hard at legislating because we think legislation can have an impact. But on such a big world problem, to think that on oil supply and demand that you could come to the floor of the Senate and say in a credible manner that the price of oil has come down because a bill was introduced--and the bill was the speculation bill--you know, people haven't gone to sleep. The speculation bill has been written about, and the best thinkers have said: First, you don't need one; and, second, this one would not do anything. Mr. ALEXANDER. The Senator from New Mexico is right, and you are not the only one who thinks that. I picked up the New York Times a couple of days ago, and in their editorial--and they do not always agree with the Republican side of the aisle, I will have to concede--but they basically said the speculation bill is not a solution to high gas prices. Warren Buffett, who is a pretty good observer of the American economy, has said it is not speculation, it is supply and demand. I know for people who may be watching the Senate, they may ask: What are you hung about up about in the Senate? Why don't you work across party lines and come up with some good ideas about supply and some good ideas about demand and put them in a piece of legislation and vote on it and go home and you will have taken a big step in the right direction? We have said that is what we want to do: oil shale, offshore drilling, and plug-in cars. The problem is, we haven't been able to do that because the Democratic leader, for some reason, is reluctant to do the supply part of supply and demand. Mr. DOMENICI. I want to also say, Mr. President, I think some of us who work hard in the energy field know why the price of oil has dropped a little. First, those of us who have worked at it are concerned about the supply and demand problem because we entered an era for a short time when, obviously, there was no more new supply on hand and the demand was growing. And guess what happened. The United States, the American people, not because we passed a lot of laws but because they felt the price of oil in their pocketbooks, changed the way they behaved, and as a result they saved enormous amounts of crude oil. We estimate right now that U.S. demand has been decreased by 4.3 percent, and that is about 1 million barrels a day. When the Senator just spoke a minute ago, he was right. He gave the numbers, and 5 percent of that number would have been 1, and that is what we are at--1 million barrels. That came down. That lessened the demand, the world economy had some problems, less money was spent, and the demand came down. That was supply and demand working at its best. Mr. ALEXANDER. I would say to the Senator from New Mexico, that is 1 million barrels a day using less. What we are saying, with plug-in cars and trucks, we can cut out another 4 million barrels a day over a few years. But if we use offshore drilling and oil shale, we can add 3 million. So we can reduce by one-third our imported oil and change the price of gasoline. And I would say to the Senator from New Mexico that some people say: Well, changing the price is way off in the future. I thought that today's price is based upon the expected supply. Mr. DOMENICI. You bet. Mr. ALEXANDER. And the expected demand. From the day the world thought that we might increase that by a few million barrels a day, or reduce that by a few million barrels a day, the prices started going down. Am I wrong about that? Mr. DOMENICI. Well, if you say just coming up with the idea would do it, then I would say no, the Senator is not right. But if we were to have done that, and it was a matter of law in America that we were going to find more because it was there--you know, Americans are pretty good at drilling. Americans don't mind using the word ``drill.'' They have told us now in the polls, in answer to the question, that they are, by 75 percent, for more drilling if it is on property we own. In fact, offshore has been the answer. So they want us to find more, and they also want to use less. It is obvious that if we would have passed that--and anybody who says we could not have because we didn't have time is just trying to pull the wool over the eyes of Americans. How many days would it take to do that if we had the will and we were given 7 days and we made a deal? We can't make a deal on anything else, but if we made one and we were going to have 7 days to debate this bill, amendments come as they may--take down the thing that the majority leader put up there because he didn't want us to vote--7 full days of debate--we could have produced a bill that would have opened the offshore permanently, except for the 15 percent that is already open, and we would have adopted the use less, find more provisions you have so eloquently brought to us from some of your experts, the experts you talked to, some of them at your National Laboratories. Just think, after we passed that and had a signing ceremony at the White House to say: Here is what we have done, Americans. You are saving on your own, so you are using less, and we really think that is great, but we think there is still danger the price will go up, so we want to find more to keep it down--we are having the ceremony where we are celebrating both. Mr. ALEXANDER. The Senator says we could have done that in maybe a week. Mr. DOMENICI. You bet. Mr. ALEXANDER. We could have agreed to a large number of amendments and said: Let's have an hour on each amendment and let's have a vote, and we might win some or lose some. But may I remind the Senator that Senator Reid brought this to the floor nearly 2 weeks ago. Could we not have started on that day to have amendments from the Republicans and amendments from the Democrats, limiting debate to 1-hour per amendment with all amendments germane to energy? Wouldn't that be a normal way for the Senate to work? Mr. DOMENICI. You were here, and we got three energy bills through. People think we did nothing, but we did. We had a 6-year span here where we did a lot for energy. We changed the CAFE standards for cars. What is that going to do? Use less. Mr. ALEXANDER. That is the single most important step Congress could take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil, according to experts at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Congress did that last year. Mr. DOMENICI. And we did it with just one other item. It certainly didn't take as long as we have been down here talking instead of offering amendments--because we could not. We passed it, and there it is. Everyone knows it is great. People are telling us: Don't worry about the offshore, it takes 10 or 15 years. Do you know what they told us about the ``use less'' provision that is so important, called new CAFE standards for American automobile fleets, all our cars? They told us that will not be totally effective for 20 years. The curve goes like this: you start--you don't save any, you don't save any, and then in the 15th and 20th years, you start to finally save. Should we not have done it because it takes a long time to take effect? Of course not. We were told to get started on it because, as you said, it is the single biggest way to save gasoline and diesel fuel that anybody knows of. Mr. ALEXANDER. It seems as if our job, Senator, the way I always remembered it, was to look ahead 5 or 10 years. Mr. DOMENICI. Sure. Mr. ALEXANDER. What if President Kennedy said we can't go to the Moon because it might take 10 years or Benjamin Franklin said we can't have a republic because it might take 50 years? And we also said--you just said it: From the day we pass legislation that includes oil shale, offshore drilling, plug-in cars and trucks--from the day we do that, then the buyers and sellers of oil say: It looks as if there is going to be a larger supply and less demand, and maybe we will pay a little less for oil. Mr. DOMENICI. I want to talk to the Senator for a minute about whether we are capable of doing big things that affect the energy field. We had a chance here in the last 7 to 10 days to do something rather big. But do you know what we did 4 years ago? I was fortunate. I left the Budget Committee, where I was chairing--it seemed as though I was, at the pleasure of the Republicans, running that thing for so long, they never wanted me to step down. I finally got tired of it, and I took the Energy Committee. The first bill we passed addressed an issue that is part of this ``find more.'' It addressed the issue of why we did not build a nuclear powerplant for 27 years. We answered it in that legislation, didn't we? Mr. ALEXANDER. And there has been a remarkable change today just because of that legislation 4 years ago. Mr. DOMENICI. Do you know how many applications there were when we passed that legislation, for all America? Zero. That meant something was awry. Mr. ALEXANDER. For nuclear powerplants. Mr. DOMENICI. We had not built any. You have to apply, and so you go there and look and you see whether there are any applications. As of today--I just got a briefing--do you know how many full-blown applications there are to build, locate, and design? You can put all that in one now. It takes a long time--4 years after you have done it. Sixteen American companies or consortia of companies, even though it takes a long time and they are going to have to have their money at risk for a long time, put their applications in and said: I want to get in line because I want to build, I want to find more energy. We are really grateful; for once, we have one where we don't have to argue about pollution, right? Mr. ALEXANDER. It is the only source of large, dependable amounts of energy with no carbon, no sulphur, no mercury, no nitrogen. It is our cleanest. And as the price of coal goes up and natural gas goes up, it is the least expensive of our reliable forms of energy. Mr. DOMENICI. So, you see, when there is a will, there is a way. The problem is, there was no will on the part of the Democratic leader--and perhaps some behind him. I am not going to say all of them, but surely they didn't express any dissatisfaction with what was going on until, at the end, we started feeling there was some rumbling going on. Maybe they had some friction. But nobody over on that side seemed to be saying to their leader: We want to get busy here and have some votes. There was not a will, so you can't do it. You couldn't change nuclear power without a will. In that same bill we were referring to, we changed a lot of things. I wanted to tell you, one thing you have been interested in is the electric grid because you are concerned about how we are going to get the electrical power when we cannot build powerplants. Certainly, it takes a long time to use this nuclear one as the way. It takes a long time. You can build coal fastest, but there are a lot of problems with EPA and others on that, right? Then you can build natural gas. That is pretty much--you and I look upon that as Senators and say: Yes, you can do it, but it sure is risky because we need that natural gas so badly. But that is the only way they built them in the last few years. That bothers you, right? Doesn't it? Aren't you worried about that? Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, how much time do we have remaining? The PRESIDING OFFICER (Ms. KLOBUCHAR). The Senator has 1 minute 7 seconds remaining. Mr. ALEXANDER. Let me ask the Senator from New Mexico on our last minute and 7 seconds, one of the descriptions I like is his description of how we need to produce more American energy as our bridge to the future when we will have a different kind of energy. Mr. DOMENICI. I would think, if we could start using these words--we need a bridge to the future--and then we got together and thought about that and then said, What is that? Remember a while ago I told you how long it would take in the city of Austin before you would get all those cars that are using oil off the streets? Mr. ALEXANDER. Ten to fifteen years, half of them. Mr. DOMENICI. Half of them. And then all the other things we talked about, CAFE, how long it would take going up and then start down--that applies to so many things in America that the truth is we are not going to be in a position to look to new, brand new generation of energy to move cars and trucks. We can't do that for a decade. So there is a bridge taking place, a bridge from now until we do not need oil any longer. But what does the bridge consist of? It is oil. Oil is the bridge between now and the time we do not use oil. I regret to tell you, for anyone who thinks there is no bridge--it just comes to me now--then they can walk into a canyon and drown in the water underground that is running there because they didn't walk on a bridge and they drowned themselves. I do not want to drown our country. I want to find new oil so the bridge will be less somebody else's and more ours. I understand the Chair tells us we are out of time. We will behave very well. Thank you very much. I yield the floor.