Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) -- Energy

Posted on July 16, 2008

Mr. ALEXANDER. Mr. President, I wish to say first that I had the chance to hear not only the Senator from North Dakota but the Senator from New Mexico, Mr. Bingaman, and what was going through my mind is that this is exactly what the Senate ought to be doing every day -- every day -- until we have a full and complete debate about all of the causes of the current high gasoline prices, all of the solutions that we can put in place today, until we consider all of the amendments that we need to bring up, and that we come to as a result. That is what the Senate is supposed to do. It is wonderful that we have 36 minutes to get up and present our sides, but our mode of business for the most difficult problem facing our country ought not to be back-and-forth arguments, or it ought not to be just to consider one bill brought up by the Democratic leader just because he is the majority leader and can do that and not consider all of the other ideas. I would like to hear all that Senator Bingaman has to say, for example, about why he doesn't like the idea of State options for offshore exploration. He is a thoughtful Senator and chairman of the energy committee. I would like to hear all that Senator Dorgan has to say about speculation. He is a thoughtful Senator and, as he said, has been willing to support more offshore exploration in some cases, and might do more. We need to have a full debate about the extent to which speculation is a problem. For example, Senator Dorgan cited speculation as one reason we have gas prices above $4 a gallon. Republicans believe speculation is part of the problem as well. The Gas Price Reduction Act we introduced, with 44 Republican Senators supporting it -- and we hope it earns significant support on the other side -- has as one of its four parts speculation and putting 100 more cops on the beat to deal with it. But we are also aware that Warren Buffett, who is invited to lunches on the other side of the aisle because he is a well-admired person who understands the market well enough to make a lot of money on it, Warren Buffett said in June: "It is not speculation; it is supply and demand." The International Energy Agency, an energy policy organization with 27 member nations, says: Blaming speculation is an easy solution which avoids taking the necessary steps to improve supply side access and investment, or to implement measures to improve energy efficiency. So we need to consider a full debate on the extent to which speculation makes a difference. We believe -- and we are not the first to have this idea -- that the solution to $4 gasoline prices is to find more oil and to use less oil. I wasn't the best student in economics at Vanderbilt University years ago, but that is what I was taught in economics 101, that the reason gas prices are high is because we have had growing demand and diminishing supplies. Also -- I will get back to this more -- what we do today about future prices can make all the difference in today's prices. I am not the only one who believes that. Martin Feldstein, chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President Reagan, a Harvard professor and member of the Wall Street Journal's board of contributors said in an article a few days ago: Any steps that can be taken now to increase the future supply of oil -- that is finding more -- or reduce the future demand for oil in the United States or elsewhere -- that is using less -- can, therefore, lead to lower prices and increased consumption today. Not 10 years from now, not 5 years from now; what we plan for the future can make a difference in the prices today, and we need to be doing that. April is a single mother of two in Sevier County, TN, who took a job 40 miles away 2 years ago so she wouldn't have to live off welfare. With gas prices rising, she is spending about $160 a week on gas and can't afford to pay all the bills. She sent me that letter in the past couple of weeks. Dave from Murfreesboro was laid off from his job at a trucking company in Jackson because they had to declare bankruptcy. They couldn't afford the gas. The company just expanded the dispatch office and they bought new trucks when they ran out of money from rising fuel prices. He is now worried our middle class is disappearing. Robert in Elizabethton, TN, a retired police officer, worked his whole life so he could retire. But now with gas prices so high, he says he has to cut back on his trips to the doctor and the grocery store because it has gotten so expensive. Glenna from Lafayette is on social security and lives on a very fixed income. She can barely afford to leave home. Even the food at her local grocery store has gotten more expensive because they have to pay a gas fee for deliveries. David from Knoxville has had to cancel his family's vacation this year. He will be having a "STAYcation," as he says. He just got a promotion and raise at work, but the increase in living costs with food and gas has left him with no net gain. Instead, he is struggling to pay his bills. Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent to have printed in the Record these five letters and e-mails from Tennesseans who are Americans hurt by high gas prices. The writers of these letters may say: All right, you are United States Senators. You are in charge of the Congress. Do something. Well, we say find more, use less. We have a bill, 44 Senators cosponsored the bill, and we asked to bring it up. Senator Vitter of Louisiana brought it up the other day, and on behalf of the Democratic side, it was objected to. Now, I can understand that. Maybe it wasn't convenient to bring it up that day, but it is not convenient for the letter writers who wrote to me to wait another 2 days for us to seriously deal with the issue of gasoline prices either. So my suggestion is that the Democratic leader -- and the whole Nation should understand this. The Democratic leader may not have much of a majority, but he has control of the agenda. If he wants to put gasoline legislation on the floor of the Senate, he can do it the next hour. He can do it before noon. When he does it, I would respectfully ask that the American people expect us to have a full discussion and full debate about how we can fix this problem, and that means what can we do about finding more, what can we do about using less. We just heard two of the most prominent Democratic Senators who understand energy and who say we do need to do a variety of things. They say that. We had a second bipartisan breakfast yesterday morning on gas prices. Fifteen Senators attended -- eight Democrats, seven Republicans -- or maybe it was the reverse. I wasn't there because I was in Chattanooga for Volkswagen's announcement of a new plant in Chattanooga, for which we are grateful. But we had a good discussion the week before, and we had a good one yesterday. We should be having that discussion on the Senate floor. Our plan, the Republican plan, which we hope earns Democratic support, is very simple. It would increase American production by one-third over time -- by one-third, one, by giving States the option to explore offshore for oil and gas and keep 37 1/2 percent of the revenues. If I were the Governor, as I once was -- we don't have a coast in Tennessee, but I would have been delighted to have that money. I would have put it in the bank and built the best higher education system in America, kept taxes down, and done some other things. That is what the four States in the South do. Virginia might decide to do it, North Carolina, Florida might. The oil market would get the oil and our prices would begin to stabilize. That would be 1 million barrels a day the Department of Interior estimates. Remember, 85 percent of the area on the Outer Continental Shelf in which we could drill is now off limits. We are going to have to deal with that issue. We should be dealing with it on the Senate floor. Two, we could go to three Western States and lift the moratorium on oil shale development. We should proceed with that in environmentally sound ways. That should produce, according to the Department of the Interior, 2 million barrels a day. What do those numbers mean? It means we could increase our production by one-third -- increase American energy by one-third. Now, we only produce maybe 10 percent of the world's oil, but we are the third largest producer. Many on the other side have said: Well, let's sue OPEC, the Middle Eastern countries, and make them produce more oil. By analogy, we should be suing ourselves for not allowing the U.S. to produce more oil. We produce about as much oil as Saudi Arabia. We are the third largest producer. We should make our contribution to finding more American energy by producing more oil, and there are many Republicans and some Democrats who are ready to do that. So why are we not debating that and acting on that and voting on that on the Senate floor? That is what the Senate is expected to do. Then, use less. We are willing to do both. We understand both parts of the equation of supply and demand. Our suggestion and our legislation -- and I believe, personally, the most promising way for our country to rapidly reduce our reliance on foreign oil -- is to use plug-in electric cars and trucks. Now, when I first began talking about this, some people thought I had been out in the sun too long. But Nissan, Toyota, Ford, General Motors, are all going to be making and selling to us within a year or two or three electric hybrid cars, or in Nissan's case an electric car that you simply plug in at night. Where do we get the electricity to do that? We have plenty of electricity at night when we are asleep. In the TVA region, for example, where I am from, the Tennessee Valley Authority, we produce about 3 percent of all of the electricity in America. We have the equivalent of 6 or 7 nuclear powerplants worth of electricity available at night which is unused. So TVA can bring me a smart meter and say: Mr. Alexander, you can fill up with electricity at night and drive your car 30 miles a day without using any gas. When I am here in the Senate, that is about all I drive. Three-quarters of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. Over time, the Brookings experts believe we could electrify half our cars and trucks, and do it without building any more new powerplants because we already have unused electricity at night. So we are willing to do more and use less. We hear too much coming from the other side of the aisle to avoid the finding more part. They are dancing around the issue. We say: More offshore exploration with some exceptions. We hear: No, we can't. We say lift the moratorium on oil shale, with some exceptions. They say, no, we can't. We say more nuclear power, which is clean and we can use it for electricity and to plug in our cars and trucks. They say, no, we can't. We need to be finding ways that we can say, yes, we can, to finding more and using less. My last comment is this: I hope not to hear anybody else ever say on the floor of the Senate that we cannot do something because it will take 10 years. Did President Kennedy say we could not go to the Moon because it would take 10 years? Did President Roosevelt say we could not build a bomb to win World War II because it might take 3 years? Did our Founding Fathers say we have cannot have a Republic or a democracy because it might take 20, 30, or 40 years? Our greatest leaders have said this is the way we go in America. This is what we should be like in 5 or 10 years. We should have a new "Manhattan Project" for clean energy independence, to put us on a path toward that independence with 5 or 10 years. From the day we take those actions, the price of oil and gasoline stabilizes and begins to go down. That is what was so eloquently said in the Wall Street Journal article by Mr. Feldstein. Let me conclude with the very words he said 2 days ago: Now here is the good news. Any policy that causes the expected future oil price to fall can cause the current price to fall, or to rise less than it would otherwise do. In other words, it is possible to bring down today's price of oil with policies that will have their physical impact on oil demand or supply only in the future. The United States and this world are waiting for us to enact a plan that will find more American energy and use less oil, so it can see that in the future we are on a path to energy independence and, as a result, the prices of oil today will stabilize and begin to go down. I yield the floor.