Speeches & Floor Statements

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

Posted on July 24, 2008

Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, if you have been watching television lately, you have seen Boone Pickens. In the Democratic caucus, you have seen Boone Pickens. In the Republican caucus, you have seen Boone Pickens. Boone Pickens has said a lot of things, but the thing he says that I think most of us agree with here is that we are in the midst of the greatest transfer of wealth in our country's history as we pay for foreign oil and that we do not need talk, we need action. In these next few minutes, what we hope to do on the Republican side of the aisle is make absolutely clear what we are trying to achieve over the weekend and during this week. What we see is that $4 gasoline prices are the single biggest problem facing our country. What we know is that what the people of this country want us to do is to take up this issue, give it our best ideas, vote on it, and come up with a substantial result that increases the supply of new energy and reduces the demand for energy, which is the way you change the price of energy. That should be simple enough to do, but the fact is that the Democratic leader has had us all tied up in parliamentary knots since last Friday. We could have been doing this every single day since last Friday. Just to give a idea of what we have in mind, we have a real solution in mind: conservation; deep-sea exploration; removing the moratorium on oil shale so that, in an environmentally safe way, we can proceed with that; Alaskan energy production; clean nuclear power; military coal-to-liquid transportation fuels; home heating oil assistance. That is just the beginning of the kind of debate we ought to be having. We could have been having it since Friday. I see my friend from Georgia in the Chamber. He has been a leader in nuclear power. I ask the Senator from Georgia, isn't clean nuclear power essential to any supply of new American energy? Mr. ISAKSON. I thank the Senator from Tennessee. It absolutely is essential. The Senator and I share a common border between the States of Georgia and Tennessee, and along that border, Tennessee Valley operates. They are a big producer of efficient, inexpensive, reliable electric energy produced by nuclear power. In the United States of America today, 19 percent of our electricity is generated by nuclear, 81 percent by coal, gas, and a sliver by hydro. That 19 percent that is nuclear does two things: No. 1, it is reliable, and No. 2, it emits zero carbon. Carbon reduction is in the best interests of our climate. It is also in the best interests geopolitically of the United States of America, by reducing our dependence on foreign imported oil. I have offered an amendment to this bill, which has been filed, which is a new nuclear title, which reenergizes the nuclear energy business in the United States, which has basically been dormant since the mid-1970s while other countries around the world have embraced nuclear energy as the solution to their fossil fuel problem in terms of energy production and electric production. Look at the nation of France. Eighty-seven percent of their electricity is generated by nuclear. They have developed a reprocessing MOX facility that reduces their waste by 90 percent. So they have almost eliminated the waste problem, and they almost have total reliability on nuclear energy. There is no silver bullet in this challenge of reducing gas prices and reducing our dependence on foreign oil, but there are a lot of bullets we have in our arsenal if we are only willing to put them in the chamber. Nuclear is one of them. One of the great things Senator Alexander advocated so much is the plug-in car that we know is coming. You can plug it in at night, recharge it, and the next day drive it and use it. At night, we are generating a lot of electric power that goes to waste because everybody is asleep and activity is slow. If you plug your car in at night, you are making good, efficient use of the electricity you are generating and wasting, and you are reducing totally, because you use electricity, dependence on oil. I say to the distinguished Senator from Tennessee, nuclear energy is a piece of the puzzle--and this is a puzzle. I happen to know the answer to the puzzle. It is all the resources the United States has at its disposal to reduce its importing of foreign oil, increase our conservation, and incentivize production of the energy we know we have within our own capacity and within our own boundaries. I thank the Senator for recognizing nuclear. Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Senator from Georgia for his leadership on nuclear power. If we care about global warming in any respect, there is no way to deal with that in a generation without nuclear power, which is free of carbon, free of mercury, free of nitrogen, and free of sulfur. It is the best way we have to move ahead with that, and we should, in this debate, be thinking of ways to make it possible for this country to be building five or six new nuclear plants a year, producing more American energy. The Senator from Georgia spoke about a plug-in electric car. I know when I first started speaking of that, some of my friends in Tennessee thought I had been out in the Sun too long. But I found out the Senator from Utah was way ahead of me. In fact, an important part of the Republican proposal--and I know on the Democratic side there are many who agree with this--is to make it commonplace in America for us to reduce the amount of oil we use by using electric cars and trucks that plug in. As I move to the Senator from Utah, I hasten to add--I sat here last night listening to the Democratic leader characterize the Republican proposal as only drilling. I know the Democratic leader has a lot of responsibilities, and he may not have had time to read our proposal carefully. An important part of our proposal is to make it commonplace for Americans to drive plug-in cars and trucks, thereby reducing the amount of oil we use. That is the demand side of the equation. The difference between us and the Democratic leader is we understand that the law of supply and demand has both supply and demand. I wonder if the Senator from Utah does not believe that plug-in electric cars and trucks are an important way to reduce our use of oil? Mr. HATCH. I thank my colleague and thank him for his leadership in this matter. Back to the nuclear thing, I drove a hydrogen vehicle not too long ago. If we had these nuclear powerplants, we would have enough hydrogen. We could do it. The problem is we only have 9 million tons and we need 150 million tons just to start it. But having raised the hybrid and plug-in hybrid issue, let me say Americans are looking to Congress to address our current energy crisis, and we should be pursuing every reasonable option to reducing our addiction to foreign oil. The distinguished Senator from Tennessee may be aware that I was the sponsor of the CLEAR Act, which was signed into law as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and as part of the transportation bill which passed the same year. The CLEAR Act has been providing tax credits to consumers who purchase alternative fuel and advanced technology vehicles, including battery electric and hybrid cars. It has also been providing incentives for new alternative fuel stations and for the use of alternative fuels in vehicles. Our transportation sector is 97 percent dependent on oil. I am all for oil. We certainly need more of it, but we also must find ways to diversify our transportation fuels. I have heard some argue we must promote solar, wind, and geothermal as an answer to high gas prices. Well, obviously, cars and trucks don't run on electricity. It is going to take us a little while to get there. But what if we changed that? Why not use plug-ins to apply hydroelectric, solar, wind, geothermal, and nuclear to our transportation sector? Talk about adding diversity to our transportation fuels. Immediately after the CLEAR Act was signed into law, I began working on legislation to promote plug-in hybrid vehicles. It was a bipartisan effort, and I received strong and early assistance from Senators Maria Cantwell and Barack Obama, of all persons. We introduced S. 1617, the FREEDOM Act, which would provide four strong tax incentives promoting plug-in hybrid vehicle purchases, and also the U.S. manufacture of these vehicles and their technologies. I am pleased that the plug-in hybrid idea has remained bipartisan. I know that portions of the FREEDOM Act have been included in both the Republican and Democrat energy extenders bills. I believe we will see the day when the electric grid becomes a significant new alternative transportation fuel. We should keep in mind that our electric grid is a domestic resource. You won't see our President flying to the Middle East begging the Saudis to send us more electrons. We can do it right here. Electrons are not only domestic, but they are much cheaper and much cleaner than gasoline. Best of all, the United States is well positioned to be the world leader in the development of plug-in hybrid vehicles. We have already seen the California-based Tesla Motors plug-in electric vehicle. Raser Technologies based in Utah, has developed a very powerful and efficient AC induction motor, and A123 Systems, based in Massachusetts, has developed a very advanced lithium ion battery that has been configured specifically for electric-drive vehicles. Also, General Motors will soon offer a plug-in hybrid Saturn vehicle, and that will be followed by the plug-in hybrid Volt. The Volt will be one of the most exciting vehicle innovations of our lifetimes. It will allow the average commuter to drive to work and back without using one drop of oil. Our friends on the other side will be delighted. The problem is we cannot do it right now. We have to have something to power our trucks, planes, trains, and cars. The volt will run entirely on electricity for up to 40 miles. For longer trips that exceed the range of the battery, the vehicle will switch into a very efficient hybrid vehicle. The U.S. is truly on the cutting-edge of technology in developing commercial, electron powered vehicles. Mr. President, I am aware that my good friend Senator Alexander has also shown a great deal of leadership in promoting plug-in hybrids. And I would ask him if it isn't true that our Nation is in position to lead the world on the potential of shifting some of our transportation needs over to the electric grid? Perhaps we are not quite willing to lead it because it takes time to get that accomplished? Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Senator from Utah for his leadership. Before I answer his question, I wish to emphasize our point here. What we are hoping to do is to show that, on the Republican side--and we believe there are many Democrats who feel this way too--we believe the solution to high gasoline prices is finding more American energy and using less. We are willing to do both. The Democratic leader is not willing to find more, for some reason. But on Senator Hatch's point, the most promising opportunity I believe for using less oil in the near term is the plug-in hybrid car and truck by a confluence of two things: One is all the car companies you talked about who are about to produce the car. I can add to that Nissan, at the dedication of its new North American headquarters in Nashville this week, announced it intends to market a plug-in pure electric vehicle that will go 100 miles with a charge in 2010 for fleets and for individuals in 2012. One may say: Well, where are you going to get all this electricity? We have plenty of electricity at night. In our region in Tennessee, the Tennessee Valley Authority has the equivalent of seven or eight nuclear powerplants of unused electricity at night, which could be used for plug-in cars and trucks. So I think there will be a great many people in Tennessee and in Utah and across this country who very quickly will be plugging in at night in a wall socket and filling up, so to speak, for a dollar or two, instead of filing up for $80 at the gasoline pump. Mr. HATCH. Can I mention to my colleague this little company, Raser Technologies in Utah, now has developed an electric motor, not very large, that has more thrust, more--I do not know what to call it, but more actual energy than the gas combustion engines. They are about to put one of those motors on a pickup truck that will get, according to them, around 120 miles per gallon of gas. We can get there, but it is going to take us a number of years to get there. In the immediate future, we have to find more oil so we quit sending $700 billion or more every year--and that is going to go up every year--overseas that does not do us very much good. Because that is all gone once it is gone. We should keep that money here so we can do all the things we need to do for the American people. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the other side will not get together with us and help us to put all these elements together and recognize it is going to take oil to get us over the next few years to where these wonderful things can explode. They are doable. We can do them now, except we cannot manufacture them fast enough or get the manufacturing lines up in a short period of time. But if we can, it will be amazing. I remember when I got into the hybrid car business in the CLEAR Act. We found that hybrid cars could be driven on HOV-2 lanes during the rush hour. Automatically, they sold out. We knew just on that one little incentive, so we put incentives in to develop hybrid cars in the CLEAR Act, we have them in the Freedom Act as well, plus incentives for all kinds of other things. Frankly, they have worked amazingly well. But in the interim time, we are going to have to have oil. I hope we can find more and use less through these other mechanisms. Mr. ALEXANDER. I see the majority leader, who I think has some remarks to make. We would be glad to suspend the colloquy if he would like to do that now. Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, I thank the majority leader for his comments. The Republican Leader would want me to say, he speaks for all of us in expressing the respect for the families of the two fallen men and our appreciation to the service of all the Capitol police officers today. We will have an opportunity, within a few minutes, to honor the fallen men. Mr. Hatch was saying, the Senator from Utah, we have impressive ways to use less oil. But we also have important ways to find more oil. One of those ways would be to use technology to turn coal into aviation fuel; a proven technology which is available, which in the past has had some challenges, but there are some new techniques. One of the Senators who is a leading advocate of coal-to-liquid technology understands it well, the Senator from Wyoming. I ask the Senator from Wyoming: Would it not be important for our national security to at least take steps toward turning coal into liquid aviation fuel? Mr. BARRASSO. Most certainly it would be very important to turn that coal into liquid fuel for aviation. If you take a look at this morning's Politico, an issue of the Pentagon, the Department of Defense is the Nation's biggest oil consumer, burning 395,000 barrels per day, about as much as the country of Greece. The Air Force's thirsty planes burn more than half the fuel supplied for the entire U.S. military. It did receive $1.5 billion in new relief from Congress for fuel and still has $400 million left to go. When you look at that and say: What else could we do to help lower that cost, not just for the consumer who fills their tank at home but also for your military, it is converting coal to liquid. The technology is there. People ask: Is there enough coal and how would you do it? There is an incredibly abundant supply of coal in this Nation. To me, coal is the most available, affordable, reliable, and secure source of energy we have in this Nation. Wyoming is the No. 1 coal producer in the United States. There is enough coal in Wyoming alone to help our Nation for centuries, for hundreds of years. Coal is there and the technology is there. Right now under the law, the military is not allowed to make a contract long term to put that coal into liquid. But the technology is there. We have an exciting company in Wyoming, near Medicine Bow, building a plant to do this, to convert the coal to liquid. But it is not only Wyoming As the Presiding Officer knows, and the Senator from Tennessee knows, there is coal all around the United States--coal in West Virginia, coal in Kentucky, coal in Pennsylvania, coal in Illinois, coal in Wyoming, coal in Montana. Everyplace we need energy we have coal. Some folks are saying: What about the carbon dioxide? But the technology is there to get the carbon dioxide, to sequester it, and actually to use it for more oil development. You take an old burned-out oil well where there is not a lot of oil coming out. There is a way to inject the carbon dioxide and get out more oil. So it is not only good because you can use the coal for the liquids, you can also use this carbon dioxide to get even more oil. By that, you are certainly finding more, with something we have here. To me, this is so much about becoming, as a nation, energy self-sufficient. The only way we can do that is to rely on American sources of energy. We are sending hundreds of millions of dollars overseas to people who are not our friends--hundreds of billions of dollars. This is America's treasure going overseas. Why? Because we are not energy self-sufficient. But with all the coal resources we have all across this country, and the technology, we can today start converting the coal to liquids to be used for aviation, to be used for our military. The No. 1 user is our military in terms of the largest user of our energy. It seems to me, to the Senator from Tennessee, that when we have this discussion--and I hear Senator Isakson talking about nuclear, finding more energy that way, I hear Senator Hatch talking about the cars and using less energy that way--this is one more way in this whole portfolio of different ways to use energy as we find more and use less. Because the American people are going to continue to use all the energy, we need all the sources of energy. That is the way we can keep down the price at the pump for people all across our country. Mr. ALEXANDER. I thank the Senator from Wyoming for his leadership. As he speaks, it reminds me of how much I wish, instead of our being in a parliamentary position where all we can do is talk, the Democratic leader would put us in a parliamentary position where we can act. I mean, we are prepared to act. We have offered an amendment that has a series of suggestions about how to find more American energy and use less. We may not be right in every case. But I believe the American people expect us, expect us to take up these issues and debate them and use them, whether it is plug-in electric cars, to use less oil, or, for example, I see the Senator from Alaska is here, whether it is using more of Alaskan energy. Every time we talk about more American energy, we must think about Alaska because so much energy is there. I wonder if the Senator would not agree, that there is not one way, but a whole series of ways we might change the law to improve our country's security, improve our supply of oil and gas by using Alaskan energy? Ms. MURKOWSKI. Madam President, I am pleased to respond to the question from the senior Senator from Tennessee. Alaska is blessed in its abundance of resources, whether it be oil or natural gas, coal, to the timber, to the fisheries, we are absolutely blessed. When it comes to those fossilized fuels, the abundance is extraordinary. Oftentimes people think we are making up the numbers because they are as substantial as they are. We have the potential in the State of Alaska right now, between our onshore assets and our known offshore reserves, when it comes to oil, of an additional 65 billion barrels of oil coming from the State of Alaska. There is 390 trillion cubic feet of natural gas from the onshore reserves and, from what we know, from the offshore. Yesterday there were new numbers released from the USGS on the potential for oil and gas in the Arctic region. This was a survey of the entire Arctic, not only Alaska's resources. Of those resources, they indicated, in terms of oil, it is about 90 billion barrels coming out of the Arctic. Of that 90, a full third would be in the area in the waters off of the State of Alaska, so about 30 billion barrels of oil in terms of resource there. What we are talking about, in terms of the potential for Alaska to contribute in a meaningful manner with increased production, is nothing short of dramatic. When we talk about ANWR specifically--and there has been great debate about whether we should open ANWR--keep in mind, we are not allowed to explore. Mr. ALEXANDER. If I may let the Senator know, we have about 3 minutes remaining and I need 1 of those to make a unanimous consent request. Ms. MURKOWSKI. I could go on all day talking about Alaska's resources. What I wish to leave Members with is the knowledge that as a mean estimate, we are looking at 10.6 billion barrels of oil out of ANWR. This is not insignificant. We have been providing about close to 20 percent of the Nation's oil for the past 30 years from Prudhoe Bay. We would like the opportunity to continue. We know we have the resource. We have the opportunity. We have the technology, the smarts, the know-how to make it happen and do it right while protecting the environment. I thank the Senator for his questions and recognizing that Alaska has a great deal to offer us as a nation when it comes to energy independence. Mr. ALEXANDER. Madam President, our hope today is to show the Senate that we are ready for full debate on finding more American energy and using less. That is what we should be doing. We have our proposals and would welcome debate and amendment on others. I now ask unanimous consent that the Senate consider the pending energy speculation measure in the following manner: that the bill be subject to energy-related amendments only; provided further, that the amendments be considered in an alternating manner between the two sides of the aisle; I further ask consent that the bill remain the pending business to the exclusion of all other business, other than privileged matters or items that are agreed to jointly by the two leaders; I further ask consent that the first seven amendments to be offered on this side of the aisle by the Republican leader or his designee be the following: Outer Continental Shelf exploration plus conservation; oil shale plus conservation; Alaska energy production plus conservation; the Gas Price Reduction Act, which includes plug-in electric cars and trucks; clean nuclear energy; coal-to-liquid fuel plus conservation; and an amendment involving LIHEAP.