Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) Supporting Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act

Posted on July 26, 2006

U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), chairman of the Subcommittee on Energy, delivered the following floor remarks late Wednesday in support of S. 3711, the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, of which he is a cosponsor: Mr. President, two years ago, the Senator from South Dakota, Mr. Johnson, and I introduced a bill we called the Natural Gas Price Reduction Act. We did that to give focus to the energy debate. We were hearing a lot about the price of gasoline. Gasoline prices were high and remain high because of the huge demand around the world. We know that. We know that is going to continue for a while, most likely. We know that China is growing. We know that India is growing. We know that the United States and our huge economy uses 25 percent of all the oil in the world. And so supply and the demand are going to require that the price of oil, and therefore gasoline, is going to be high for a while. We wanted to shift the focus to natural gas, which we didn't hear about as much at that time, because natural gas prices in this country had gone from the lowest in the world to the highest in the world. This was a huge problem for our country. High gasoline prices are a big problem every day. Natural gas prices are a bigger problem every day. They are a bigger problem for farmers who have seen their fertilizer costs go up. They are a bigger problem for homeowners as they pay to heat and cool their homes, and they see their bills go up. They are a bigger problem for blue collar workers in this country, such as the 1 million blue collar and white collar men and women – Americans in good-paying jobs – who work in the chemical industry. These are the kinds of jobs about which we all make speeches. We don't want them to be outsourced. We don't want their jobs to go overseas. If a chemical plant uses natural gas as a raw material – meaning, for example, as Dow Chemical testified before our Energy Committee, that 40 percent of the cost of its product was natural gas –and if the price of natural gas is $14 or $15 a unit in the United States compared to $2 or $3 a unit in some other part of the world that has a good, reasonable economy – guess where that chemical plant is going to end up? It is going to be there, not here. Guess where those 1 million jobs are going to be? They are going to be there, not here. That is why of the 70 or 80 new chemical plants being built around the world, only one of them is in the United States. There are several reasons for that, but the main reason is the high cost of natural gas. So for the farmer, for the blue collar worker, for the homeowner, the high price of natural gas is a great big problem. We saw that two years ago, and so Senator Johnson and I offered our bill to try to lower the price of natural gas. Energy policy is like a big freight train. It is hard to get started, it takes a long time to get going, and then it is hard to stop. The Energy Policy Act that the Congress adopted in a bipartisan way a year ago, which included a great many of the parts of our Natural Gas Price Reduction Act, is just beginning to have some effect. But today as we talk about this deep sea drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, it is important that we put it in the context of the whole picture, because this is the whole picture: If we want to reduce the price of natural gas in the United States and lower the cost of home heating and cooling bills, and lower the cost of fertilizer for farmers, and if we want to keep those chemical jobs and other jobs in the U.S., then there are several things we need to do. The first thing we need to do is conservation, and the Energy Policy Act of a year ago had an important section on conservation. The second thing we need to do is produce large amounts of electricity in some way other than using natural gas. Using natural gas to produce electricity is like burning the antiques in your backyard to make a fire. But most of the new electric power plants have been using natural gas over the last 10 or 15 years. The Energy Policy Act had important new sections to encourage the use of nuclear power, which supplies 20 percent of our power while producing no mercury, no sulfur, no hydrogen, and no carbon. There has begun to be a renaissance of nuclear power production in the United States. It is 70 percent of our carbon-free energy. That affects global warming. The third thing we did was to encourage the production of power from clean coal. Fifty percent of our electricity comes from coal. We have a lot of coal. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal, but it is dirty. It does produce mercury, it does produce nitrogen, it does produce sulfur, and it does produce carbon. So we need clean coal, and eventually we need to capture the carbon, put it in the ground to store it somewhere, and we need large amounts of energy. We also had significant dollars in support of renewable energy, whether it was for fuels or for electricity. We also made it easier to import natural gas through LNG terminals from around the world, which we are going to have to do for a while. We also made it easier to refine. All of those things had to do with natural gas. One thing we didn't do was increase our supply of natural gas at home, but we have come a long way. Two years ago, you couldn't even have a polite conversation on the Senate floor about offshore drilling because it was an unmentionable word. People would run out of the room as if you had said something bad. But, last year, when the Energy Policy Act came up, we had a majority of votes on this floor for an offshore drilling provision that would have permitted a state such as Virginia, for example, to drill for gas and oil – with the rigs so far off the coast you couldn't see them – and give a share of the revenues to Virginia, which it might use for education or to lower taxes or for coastal beach refurbishment, and put the rest in the Federal Treasury. That is a pretty good idea, but we couldn't get it passed because here it takes 60 votes to overcome objections from a minority of senators. We also had the perfectly obvious idea of enlarging the area of drilling in the area called Lease Sale 181 in the Gulf of Mexico, deep sea drilling for natural gas which we are talking about today, but we weren't able to do that a year ago. So what this piece of legislation does – at a time when high natural gas prices still are problems for the homeowner, the blue-collar worker, and the farmer in this country – is to give the most immediate relief we can in terms of supply. It doesn't take the place of conservation. It doesn't take the place of nuclear power. It doesn't take the place of coal or renewable energy or LNG or all of these other things we authorize -- but it adds to that, and we ought to do it. Lease Sale 181 means that the four Gulf producing states will have a chance to share in the revenues that come –that is coastal assistance in this area damaged by the hurricanes. Twelve and a half percent of the revenues will go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, so every state will have that for city parks, soccer fields and other things. That is an appropriate use. The remaining half of the revenues will go to the Federal Treasury. I am delighted that this bill has come to the floor. I was delighted with the large vote we had – 86 votes – to move ahead. I am very hopeful that with the cloture vote on Monday, we will have more than 60 votes. I believe this is important for the American people to know that sometimes senators stand up and say: Well, why are we debating this issue or that issue? I see the assistant Democratic leader on the Senate floor. Sometimes I hear the assistant Democratic leader saying things like: Why are we talking about this issue or that issue? Why aren't we talking about gasoline prices or natural gas prices? Mr. President, we are. This legislation is about natural gas prices, this is about blue-collar workers, this is about farmers, and this is about homeowners. This is the way we increase the supply and lower the price. It is that simple: produce energy here instead of bringing it in from the Middle East or some other part of the world. Senator Domenici deserves an enormous amount of credit for working on this bill, as do Senator Martinez, Senator Landrieu, Senator Vitter, and many others. The bill is a limited, sensible step in the right direction. I would like to see us go further and give Virginia the opportunity if it wishes to have offshore drilling, but that would disrupt the consensus we have here, and I don't want to disrupt that consensus. So it is very important that the American people know that as we continue the debate this week and then come back here Monday and vote, we will be voting on the surest way to increase the supply of natural gas in this country. That will make it more likely for the 10,000 workers at Eastman Chemical in East Tennessee that their jobs will stay in East Tennessee instead of moving to Germany, and that the farmers' jobs will stay in West Tennessee instead of moving to Brazil, and that the homeowners will be able to turn on their heat in the winter and turn up their air-conditioner in the summer and still be able to afford it. That is exactly what this is about. A vote for this legislation is a vote for the blue-collar worker, for the farmer, and for the homeowner, and a vote against it is a vote against the blue-collar worker, against the farmer, and against the homeowner. That is pretty simple. That is pretty straightforward. I am delighted to see that there are Democrats and Republicans for this. I hope the large number of votes we saw in favor of cloture this morning continues. We have a big economy, which means we have big energy needs. Yes, we want the conservation we put into law a year ago. We want this renaissance of nuclear power. We want clean coal with carbon recaptured. We want renewable power, we want LNG from overseas, and we want other things. We want more refining capacity. But supply is a part of the picture, and the legislation we are debating today is the most obvious example of increasing supply. I am pleased to be a cosponsor of this legislation. I am delighted with the way the leadership has presented it to the Senate. It will help the country. I hope the blue-collar workers, the farmers, and the homeowners are listening because this debate and this vote will be about them and their future and their pocketbooks.