Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) “Climate Change Legislation”

Posted on October 18, 2007

• The question before the Senate is not whether to act on climate change, or when to act, but how to act. • How shall we begin in this Congress to reduce greenhouse gas emissions with the most certainty, least complexity, and lowest cost? • The Warner-Lieberman legislation prefers an economy-wide cap-and-trade approach. • I prefer a sector-by-sector approach—that is, devising the lowest-cost, least complex approach tailored to each of the three largest sectors of the economy that produce the most greenhouses gases. • Since my first year in the Senate -- 2003 -- I have introduced legislation to put a cap on carbon emissions from the first of these large sectors, electricity power plants. These plants produce 40% of the carbon dioxide and 33% of the greenhouse gases in the United States. • I will now broaden my legislation to include two other major sectors of the economy: 1. a low carbon fuel standard for the fuels used in transportation. Transportation produces another one-third of America’s greenhouse gases. 2. an aggressive approach to building energy efficiency. • Tailoring our approach to just these three sectors—power plants, transportation, and buildings—would cover about two-thirds of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. As we implement laws reducing emissions from these three sectors, we can learn more and move on to the other sectors in the future. • A sector-by-sector approach minimizes guesswork. For example, the United States has 16 years experience with a cap-and-trade program designed to reduce acid rain pollution from power plants. The program cost less than expected. Utilities have experience with how it works. And we have in place right now the mechanisms we need to measure and regulate carbon from utility smokestacks. • Cap-and-trade -- which the Lieberman-Warner bill employs and which my legislation also employs for the utility sector -- is a Republican idea advanced by the first Bush Administration in the Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990. With cap-and-trade, the government sets the limits and the deadlines and the market sets the price. With a carbon tax, the Congressional tax committees and the Internal Revenue Service set the price. o Cap-and-trade creates a more certain environment than a tax. Congress would have to revisit the carbon question to determine whether the tax is high enough to achieve the environmental goal -- which could result in constantly changing limits and taxes. o With a carbon tax, there is more possibility that the cost of the tax will simply be passed along to the consumer rather than creating an environment in which new technologies produce less carbon and more savings. o A tax is a stick. Cap-and-trade is a carrot. With cap-and-trade, the government is saying, go forth industry. Use your ingenuity. Use your entrepreneurial spirit. Invent away. Look under every rock. Turn this into a profit center within your company or an area of excellence. Cap-and-trade is an appropriated and proven market-based tool to use as part of a solution for reducing emissions of greenhouse gases. • A sector-by-sector approach allows us to build on steps already taken. For example, in the transportation sector, Congress has already begun to mandate renewable fuels to reduce greenhouses gases. This year, the Senate enlarged that mandate and adopted fuel efficiency standards for cars and trucks. • I believe we should add to those steps a low carbon fuel standard—that is, requiring transportation fuels to gradually decrease the amount of carbon in the gasoline that they contain—which is a logical and manageable next step. • In addition, both in the energy bill of 2005 and the energy bill that the Senate passed earlier this year, Congress began to encourage more efficient buildings. Making those steps more aggressive holds the promise for enormous carbon savings at the least cost. Japan, for example, has found that its major obstacle to reducing carbon emissions has been the lack of building energy efficiency. • I believe a sector-by-sector approach will do the least harm. It avoids imposing new regulations directly on the manufacturing sector (who nevertheless may have higher costs for fuel and electricity) and therefore avoids adding to the pressures to ship those jobs overseas. • By minimize guesswork, my approach avoids grand plans that sound good but turn out to invoke the high law of unintended consequences. • I also believe that a sector-by-sector approach is the easiest approach for Members of Congress to understand and explain to our constituents these very complicated issues. As the recent debate on comprehensive immigration should have taught us, this is not an insignificant concern. • The Lieberman-Warner economy-wide climate change legislation is an important contribution. • I will not be a cosponsor, at least at this point, because I prefer the sector-by-sector approach. • But I will be a full participant in the work of the Environment and Public Works Committee and in the full Senate to produce a sensible piece of legislation in this Congress. • I believe that there is a scientific consensus that human activity is having a significant influence on global temperature increases and that climate change is an urgent problem. • And I think it is up to Congress to act. The question before the Senate is not whether to act on climate change, or when to act, but how to act.