Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) on CAFE Standards

Posted on December 13, 2007

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, sometimes here in the Senate we have so many competing views and so many different kinds of votes, some of them procedural, that it is hard to tell when something good happens. I wish to talk about such an opportunity that we have right now. This is a little bit like something my late friend Alex Haley used to say: "Find the good and praise it." We are on a path in the Congress now to do something the Senate did a few weeks ago, which was to take a step that our country's largest energy laboratory, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, has testified before our committees would be the single most important step we could take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. By reducing our dependence on foreign oil, we would do something that we could actually honestly say would help to lower the $3-a-gallon gasoline price over time, something that we could honestly say would help deal with the urgent issue of climate change, something that we could honestly say would put us on a different path toward clean energy in this country. And those are the new fuel efficiency standards. There is a clear consensus in this body -- I gather in the House of Representatives, too -- that for the first time in more than two decades, the Congress should say to everyone who makes cars and trucks in this country: You have to make cleaner cars; these cars have to use less oil one way or the other. We are not really saying to them, or at least I do not think we should say exactly how they achieve that; we are just saying that by the year 2020 the cars and the trucks have to average 35 miles per gallon. This is a big step. As I said, the Oak Ridge Laboratory testified in the Environment and Public Works Committee, this is the single most important step the Congress can take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. We have already voted to do it in the Senate, and we have already voted to do it in the House, and we had a vote today to strip away the taxes that the Senator from Texas just talked about. So we are on a path, a clear path to send this bill back to the House and then to the President and, before the first of the year, to take the most important step we can take to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. There is a lot of talk and genuine concern about climate change. There is not as much commonsense talk about solutions. On the electricity side, we know what works, and we began, in 2005 with the Energy bill, to take those steps. That bill could have been called -- should have been called -- a clean energy bill because it started with aggressive steps on conservation and then it went to a renaissance of nuclear power. The inconvenient truth on solutions to climate change is that conservation and nuclear power are the only way we will be able to deal with climate change in this generation. We hope we will be able to move ahead to sequester the carbon from coal, but we do not have that technology yet in a way that it can be used in a wholesale way. We hope there will be solar thermal powerplants such as the one being built in California, and we hope photovoltaic solar panels will cost less and people can use them on their houses, but those renewable ways to create electricity only produce a very small percentage of what we need. So in this generation, on the electricity side, conservation and nuclear power, which today produces 80 percent of all of our carbon-free electricity, are the real ways to deal with climate change, and in our part of the country, in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, the real way to make the air clean. In the same way, on the fuel side in this country that uses about 25 percent of all of the oil and gas, the single most important thing we can do is what we have already voted for once in this body, the House has voted for once, and if they take this bill and send it on to the President, the Congress will have done it; it will be fuel efficiency standards that say to everyone who makes and sells cars here: Your cars and trucks have to average 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. So in the midst of all of the procedural votes and debating these genuinely held differences of opinion, I simply want to put a spotlight on the fact that this Congress is poised to send to the President the most important thing we can do to lower prices, to reduce the dependence on foreign oil, and to deal with the climate change. It is the kind of result, the kind of bipartisan result that most Americans would like to see happen here. They know we have our differences. We will be back and forth on our votes. That is what we are here for. The tough issues come to the Senate. That is why we are a debating society. But in the end, we do not come here just to state our principles; we come here to get principled solutions. We are on our way to one of the most important principled solutions we can have in terms of energy efficiency. I congratulate the Senators who have been so much involved in this. I hope we will pass the legislation that the Senator has promised, the majority leader has promised to produce here. I hope the House of Representatives will pass it, as well, and send it to the President. I hope that over Christmastime, Americans will look at this Congress and say: Good for you on energy independence, on climate change, on cleaner air, on reducing our dependence on foreign oil. You took the most important step you could take, and that is what we think a Congress ought to do. I yield the floor.