Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) -- Oil Spill Response

Posted on June 7, 2010

Mr. PRESIDENT, I rise to speak on what I call an oilspill response for grownups. The tragic gulf oilspill has produced overreaction, demagoguery, and bad policy.  

I would cite "Obama's Katrina, end offshore drilling, produce 20 percent of our electricity from windmills" as three examples of overreaction, demagoguery, and bad policy. None of these options helps clean up and move forward a country using 25 percent of the world's energy, as the United States does year-in and year-out.  

If we Americans want both clean energy and a high standard of living, then here are 10 steps for thoughtful grownups:  

No. 1, figure out what went wrong and make it unlikely to happen again. We do not stop flying after a terrible airplane crash, and we are not going to stop drilling offshore after this terrible spill. Thirty percent of U.S. oil production and 25 percent of our natural gas production come from thousands of active wells in the Gulf of Mexico. Without it, gasoline prices would skyrocket, and we would depend more on tankers from the Middle East with worse safety records than American offshore drillers. 

No. 2, learn a safety lesson from the U.S. nuclear industry. That lesson is accountability. For 60 years, reactors on U.S. Navy ships have operated without killing one sailor. Why? The career of a ship's commander can be ended by one mistake. Incidentally, the number of deaths from nuclear accidents at U.S. commercial reactors is also zero.  

No. 3, what was the President's cleanup plan and where were the people and equipment to implement it? In 1990, after the Exxon Valdez spill, a new law passed by Congress required that the President "ensure" the cleanup of a spill and have the people and equipment to do it. That is what the law has said since 1990. President Obama effectively delegated this job to the spiller, BP. Is that the President's only real option today? If so, what should future Presidents have on hand for backup if the spiller of oil cannot perform? 

No. 4, put back on the table more onshore resources for oil and natural gas. Drilling in a few thousand acres along the edge of the 19 million-acre Alaska National Wildlife Refuge and at other onshore locations would produce vast oil supplies. A spill on land could be contained much more easily than 1 mile deep in water. 

No. 5, electrify half our cars and trucks. This is an ambitious goal, but it is the single best way to reduce U.S. oil consumption. Electrifying half our cars and trucks could cut our oil consumption by about one-third, to about 13 million barrels of petroleum product a day. A Brookings Institution study says we can electrify half our cars and trucks without building one single new powerplant if we plug in our cars at night. Last week, Senator Dorgan, Senator Merkley, and I introduced legislation to jump-start America's effort to electrify half our cars and trucks. This is a subject about which Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agree. 

No. 6, invest in energy research and development. This is another subject about which Republicans and Democrats in the Senate agree. A cost-competitive 500-mile battery would virtually guarantee eventual electrification of half our cars and trucks. While we are at it, reducing the cost of solar power by a factor of 4 would be a good response to a clean energy challenge, as would finding a way for utilities to actually make money from the CO2 their coal plants produce. 

No. 7, stop pretending wind power has anything to do with reducing America's dependence on oil. Windmills generate electricity, not transportation fuel. Wind has become the energy pet rock of the 21st century, as well as a taxpayer ripoff. According to the Energy Information Administration, wind produces only 1.3 percent of U.S. electricity but receives Federal taxpayer subsidies 25 times as much per megawatt hour as subsidies for all other forms of electricity production combined. Wind can be a useful energy supplement, but it has nothing to do with ending our dependence on oil. 

No. 8, if we need more green electricity, build nuclear plants. This is another subject upon which Republicans and Democrats agree. The 100 commercial nuclear plants we already have produce 70 percent of our pollution-free, carbon-free electricity. Yet the United States has not broken ground on a new reactor in 30 years, while China starts one every 3 months and France is 80 percent nuclear. We would not put our nuclear navy in mothballs if we were going to war. We should not put our nuclear plants in mothballs if we want low-cost, reliable green energy. 

Finally, Nos. 9 and 10. 

No. 9, focus on conservation. In the region where I live, the Tennessee Valley Authority could close four of its dirtiest coal plants if we residents of the TVA region reduced our per capita use of electricity just to the national average.  

No. 10, make sure liability limits are appropriate for spill damage. The Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund, funded by a per-barrel fee on industry, should be adjusted to pay for cleanup and to compensate those hurt by spills. An industry insurance program like that of the nuclear industry is also an attractive model to consider.

So I offer this afternoon these 10 grownup steps -- grownup steps forward that could help turn a tragic event into a stronger America. 

I thank the Acting President pro tempore and yield the floor.