Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)-Find More and Use Less

Posted on June 25, 2008

Mr. President, I have received 600 e-mails and letters from Tennesseans in response to a request I put out asking them to share their personal stories about high gas prices. It has been my practice each week to put a few of those into the Congressional Record to remind my colleagues and to remind our country that we understand that people are hurting. Tennesseans are hurting in their jobs, in their families, and in their homes. Mr. President, $4-plus gasoline is a big problem for Tennesseans. Today, I wish to submit for the Congressional Record five more letters from among the nearly 600 that I have received, and I ask unanimous consent that following my remarks these letters be printed in the Record. The first comes from Christy Long in Maynardville, TN. She works at the East Tennessee Children's Hospital in Knoxville, but she is worried about the cost of her commute. She is a diabetic. She is having trouble paying for her insulin shots due to the rising gas prices. She says: Gas for work or insulin to live. That is the decision I have had to make several times daily. James Edwards from Charlotte, TN: James drives a rural route for the Postal Service, and he uses his own car, but the $26-a-day allowance doesn't cover the gas he uses anymore. He says that since the 10-percent ethanol mandate, he gets less mileage and has to use more gas. His wife's 40-mile commute to and from work every day is also cutting into their budget. Kaye Nolen in Dyer, TN: Kay used to drive across the country once a year to see her family in Illinois, Utah, and New Mexico, but can't afford to do that this year. She says she is afraid that she will not be able to spend Thanksgiving with her family this year and that she will not be able to afford gas to make it to work if the prices keep going up. Ruthann Booher of Crossville, TN: Ruthann and her husband have had to make significant cuts in their driving and grocery buying because of escalating costs. Her husband, who is 62, is now considering quitting his job at Wal-Mart and drawing Social Security since driving to work is so expensive. They can't afford the payment on a new car with better mileage. Brenda Northern in Walland, TN, which is in the same county in which I live: Brenda is 60. She can barely afford to drive to visit her mother, who is 79 now, and it is getting harder and harder to make all of her payments. Her husband has to use diesel for his truck because he moves mobile homes for a living and diesel prices keep going up too. She says: I just do not know how we are going to make it. I want Christy and James and Kaye and Ruthann and Brenda to know that I believe Senators on both sides of the aisle care about this matter, understand what is happening, and are ready to deal with it. I know on the Republican side, here is what we believe: We believe the answer to $4 gas prices is to find more and use less; that is, find more oil and use less oil. Economics 101 taught us the law of supply and demand. The problem today fundamentally -- and most Americans understand this; Americans know this -- our problem is our supplies worldwide are not growing as fast as our demand worldwide for oil, and so the price of gasoline is going up. So if we had more supplies, and if we used less oil, the price of gasoline would go down. So we say on the Republican side: Find more, use less. There seems to be a lot of agreement on both sides of the aisle about the using less part. For example, last year, the Senate did the most important thing it could do to reduce our dependence on foreign oil by passing higher fuel efficiency standards that said that cars and trucks had to be up to 35 miles a gallon by 2020. We did that together, Republicans and Democrats. We on the Republican side are ready to try to make plug-in electric cars commonplace. I had a TVA Congressional Caucus hearing on that the other day in Nashville. Major car companies such as General Motors, Toyota, Nissan, and Ford are making plug-ins that are going to be available next year. TVA and other utilities have plenty of extra electricity at night to plug in, so literally you can plug your car in at night for 60 cents and fill it up with fuel instead of $70 worth of gasoline. I believe tens of thousands of Tennesseans and millions of Americans are going to be doing that. If we set as our goal and take all the steps we need to take in the Senate to make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace, we could use less. Many estimates from General Motors and others is that just the plug-in electric vehicles would cut our imported oil by one-third, which is now about 12 million barrels a day. That is a significant reduction. We can use less oil if we have a crash program in advanced biofuels. There is a lot of concern about ethanol and its affect on food prices. Well, we can grow a lot of crops that we don't eat like switchgrass, for example, and with more research on cellulosic ethanol we can use less oil. The other half our strategy to lower gas prices is finding more. That is where we have a difference of opinion. It seems that the other side of the aisle wants to repeal half the law of supply and demand. It is a new form of economics. Maybe we could call it "Obama-nomics" or some other name. But we say: All right, we agree on using less; now let's talk about finding more. What about, for example, allowing other States, such as Virginia, whose legislature says it wants to, to do what Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama do, which is to explore for oil offshore. We have a lot of it. We permitted an enlargement of that in the Gulf of Mexico a couple of years ago. Already the money is beginning to come in from the bids, and 37 1/2 percent of the money goes to the States for their use for education or to nourish their beaches or whatever, and one-eighth goes to the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The Presiding Officer and I both were Governors of our States. Neither one of us were fortunate enough to have an ocean on our State, so we don't have any potential for offshore drilling. I can't speak for the former Governor of Nebraska, but I can for Tennessee. If we had the opportunity in Tennessee to put oil and gas rigs 50 miles offshore where we couldn't see them and explore for oil and gas, and keep 37 1/2 percent of the revenue and put it in a fund for our universities to make them among the best in the world, and to keep taxes low, and to use the money for greenways or to nourish the beaches or for other purposes, we would do it in a minute. I would think sooner or later Virginia will say they would like to do that. Maybe North Carolina will. Maybe Florida will. Our proposal is simply, if the State wants to do it, the State can do it. No one is saying Virginia must do it or North Carolina must do it. It simply gives them the option, and it gives us more American oil and more supply to help stabilize and bring down the price of $4 gasoline. But Senator Obama and most of the Democrats on the other side of the aisle say: No, we can't. No, we can't to offshore drilling. No, we can't to oil shale, which is in four Western States. There is, conservatively speaking, according to the Department of the Interior, 1 million barrels a day that we could get from offshore exploration and 2 million barrels a day that we could get from oil shale. If we added 3 million barrels a day to our production in the United States, we would increase by one-third the production that we have in the United States. We would be making more of our contribution to the world supply of oil. We are the third largest producer of oil in the world. Why should we go begging the Saudis to drill more when we can produce more ourselves. That is part of it: Find more, use less. So we need to come to some conclusion. We want a bipartisan result. We know in the Senate we have to get 60 votes to make anything happen. But I would be hopeful that the Democratic leadership, which is in charge of the agenda, would allow us in July to bring up these matters and act like a Senate. Let's vote. Let's debate. Let's talk about ways to use less. We could find substantial agreement, whether it is on plug-in vehicles, research for advanced biofuels, or conservation. Senator Warner has suggested that the Federal Government ought to use less as a good example for the rest of the country. That is a good idea. Senator McCain and others have lots of good ideas as well. Let's talk about finding more, too, for gasoline in terms of offshore drilling or in terms of oil shale. We can leave drilling in Alaska out of the discussion if that keeps us from having a bipartisan agreement, although it is the fastest way to get 1 million new barrels of oil a day. Let's put it aside for just a moment and say we want to work across the aisle to get a bipartisan agreement. We know we can't reach that agreement with ANWR included, so we will put that aside for the moment. But can we not as a Senate, in a bipartisan way, agree that we should be finding more and using less and not be saying when it comes to offshore exploration, no, we can't, and not be saying when it comes to oil shale: No, we can't; when Senator McCain says we need to double our number of nuclear plants, that we have enough clean, carbon-free electricity to deal with clean air, global warming, and plug-in cars, from the other side comes: No, we can't. We cannot say "no, we can't" to finding more if we want to bring down $4 gasoline prices. So I say to Christy, James, Kaye, Ruthann, Brenda, and the 600 Tennesseans who have written me about $4 gasoline, over this Fourth of July recess, a good thing to say to your Members of the Senate and Members of Congress is: Find more and use less. Yes, we can find more. Yes, we can use less. Yes, we can bring down the $4 price of gasoline. Some have said it will take 10 years. Well, President Kennedy didn't shy away from asking us to take 10 years to go to the Moon. President Roosevelt didn't shy away from putting in the Manhattan Project to split the atom and build a bomb to win the war even though he knew it would take several years. What is wrong with it taking several years? Are we supposed to sit here and let our 2-year-old grandchildren have the same energy crisis to deal with 10 years from now that we have today? Leadership is about looking ahead. It might take 1, 2, 5, or 10 years, but the time to start is today. The way to do it is working across the aisle. The formula for it is economics 101: more supply, less demand, find more, use less. Today, the Republicans are ready to do that. We are ready to do both, find more and use less. But the Democrats are not. Mr. President, I yield the floor.