Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) on "Respecting State Labor Laws" and "A New Manhattan Project for Clean Energy Independence"

Posted on May 12, 2008

Mr. President, I may not use all of that time, but I wish to respond to the comments of the Senator from Massachusetts. And I will have more to say about this issue, as well, over the next 2 or 3 days as we debate this proposed legislation--involving unfunded mandates and overturning the labor laws of 21 States--about which the Senator from Massachusetts was talking. When I was Governor of Tennessee a few years ago, I remember the debate we had about whether public safety employees--firefighters, police, and others--should be allowed to collectively bargain in our State. The arguments we considered were many of the ones the Senator from Massachusetts talked about: Did we need to authorize collectively bargaining so there could be better communication, better cooperation, a more effective fire department, a more effective police department? The answer during the 8 years I was Governor was in every case, no; that it was not in the public interest for the public safety employees to collectively bargain, organize with the inevitable strike that might come because if they collectively bargained and organized, a strike was the weapon they would use to assert their rights. The point I make to the Senator from Massachusetts is that I have a very different view of this issue, and so do the people of Tennessee. We considered this almost every year I was Governor and decided that we did not think it was in the public interest to authorize collective bargaining for public employees, with the exception of teachers. This proposal has been considered in Tennessee repeatedly since I left the Governor's office--in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2005 and each time the State has come to the same conclusion. Elected officials have come to the same conclusion in nearly half of our States. Twenty-one States have decided that in the case of public safety employees, those we admire so much and whom we count on in times of distress, collective bargaining should not be required. That is the decision of 21 States. What this legislation would do is overturn that judgment. It would say the judgment of the Senator from Massachusetts is better than that of the State legislature of Tennessee. The judgment of the Senator of Massachusetts may be better for the State of Massachusetts, but I respectfully suggest it is not better for the State of Tennessee. I imagine the Senators from 20 other States would have the same opinion. When I was Governor, I didn't think my wisdom as Governor was superior to that of the mayor of Dyersburg or the mayor of Maryville or the mayor of Nashville about what kinds of labor laws they ought to have there--or the elected city council--or what they should decide about their labor laws. I didn't try to override them in that way. What I am objecting to--and we will have a chance to talk about this--is the inappropriateness of the Congress of the United States overturning laws in 21 States that, in one form or another, do not allow for collective bargaining of public service employees. This proposed legislation would say to the mayors of small towns in Tennessee, and there are 347 total incorporated cities and towns in Tennessee, and 90 of them have a population greater than 5,000: You will collectively bargain. Instead of dealing directly with your firemen and your policemen and your other public safety employees, you will appoint somebody or let them pick somebody and you will deal with that person. The Senator from Massachusetts may think that creates better cooperation and a better police force, but the people of Tennessee do not think that, and they have considered it time and time again. Why should we decide we know more than they? There is an amendment to the Constitution. It is called the 10th amendment: The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people. That is an important provision. That is the way our country was formed. We all take an oath to this Constitution, and I believe this legislation has a substantial chance of violating the 10th amendment to our Constitution. There is one other thing it does. It inevitably imposes new costs on smaller towns. Nashville has a memorandum of understanding between the city government and public safety officers. It has decided to do that. But most of our 90 cities with 5,000 or more people do not think that better communication is improved with public safety employees by collective bargaining or even a memorandum of understanding--the latter of which they are permitted to do. So here we come along and say to a small town in Tennessee: You must collectively bargain; you must appoint this person to deal with. This legislation would inevitably add to their costs. It would be an unfunded Federal mandate. I will have an amendment later which will say that this law, if it should pass--which I hope it does not--will be amended to provide that if the Governor or the chief executive officer of the city or the town in Tennessee or any other State believes this is an unfunded Federal mandate, the law has no effect. I think we have a 10th amendment problem, and we have an unfunded Federal mandate problem. I can remember when all the Republicans--Newt Gingrich, et cetera--in 1994, stood on the steps of the U.S. Capitol and said: We have had it up to here with unfunded mandates. We have had it up to here with Members of Congress who come up with these great ideas and then pass a law and then take credit for it and then send the bill to the Governor or to the mayor. That is what we would be doing here. Those same Members of Congress usually go right back to Massachusetts or Tennessee or wherever they are from, to the Jackson Day Dinner or Lincoln Day Dinner, and make a great speech about local control and how wise all the towns are. They have town meetings up in New England. We have county commissions down in Tennessee. Members of Congress say: We believe in you towns. You are the wise people, you come in and spend hours debating little issues, but we, when we fly into Washington, suddenly have this burst of wisdom that overrides all that you may do. I think the people of this country should admire and respect and honor our firefighters. But we should honor and respect and admire our Constitution and our Federal system and say that we may have different opinions in different States and different cities about what we do, and then to impose a big unfunded mandate, at least violating the spirit of the 10th amendment to the Constitution by telling every town in Tennessee and 20 other States that suddenly the law is changed, you cannot decide your labor relations anymore, we in Washington will do that for you--I think we need to rethink that. You know, what the Republicans said in 1994 was: No more unfunded Federal mandates. If we break our promise, throw us out. Well, the voters put in the Republicans--my party--in 1994 and we broke our promise and last year they threw us out. I think they will throw some more people out if we keep ignoring the will of the people and acting as if, when we fly to Washington, DC, we suddenly have a right to run amok on the 10th amendment and to overturn decisions, in my State, for example, that were debated annually during the 8 years I was Governor--and that also were rejected in 1997, 1999, 2001, 2003, and 2005. This is not a bill about cooperation, this is a bill against the 10th amendment. It is a bill, in addition, that imposes inevitably unfunded Federal mandates on cities and towns that are already struggling. I hope the Senate will reject it. Mr. President, on a more optimistic note about a bigger problem, there has been a lot of discussion about gas prices. I would like to talk about gas prices and energy prices in a little different way. Some have blamed this person, some have blamed that person, some have offered a short-term remedy. I would like to challenge our Senate to do something that I believe the American people would be grateful if we did. Let me begin it with a short story. In 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt asked Senator Kenneth McKellar, a Tennessean who was chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, to come down to the White House for a little discussion. The President asked Senator McKellar if he could hide $2 billion in the appropriations bill for a secret project to win World War II, and Senator McKellar replied to the President: Mr. President, that will be no problem. I just have one question: Where in Tennessee do you want me to hide it? That $2 billion and that place in Tennessee became Oak Ridge, TN, one of three secret cities that became the principal sites of what was then called the Manhattan Project. The purpose of the Manhattan Project was to find a way to split the atom and build a bomb before Germany did so the United States could win World War II. Nearly 200,000 people worked in 30 sites in 3 countries at breakneck speed until they succeeded. The $2 billion appropriation President Roosevelt asked for would be $24 billion today. According to New York Times science reporter William Laurence: Into [the project] went millions of man-hours of what is without doubt the most concentrated intellectual effort in history. On last Friday, I went back to Oak Ridge, one of those secret cities--now out in the open--and proposed that the United States launch a new Manhattan Project, this one a 5-year project to put America firmly on the path to clean energy independence. Instead of ending a war, the goal will be clean energy independence so we can deal with rising gas prices, electricity prices, clean air, climate change, and national security--for our country first and then, because the world has the same urgent needs, for the rest of the world. By ``independence,'' I do not mean the United States would never buy oil from Mexico or Canada or Saudi Arabia. By ``independence,'' I do mean the United States could never be held hostage by any country for our oil supplies. In 1942, many were afraid that Germany would get the bomb and blackmail the world. Today, countries that supply oil and natural gas can blackmail the world. Some have questioned whether the word ``independence'' is the right word. I believe it is exactly the right word. Go to the dictionary. The dictionary says that independence means you don't want to be controlled by someone. Our war of independence against Great Britain didn't mean we would never talk to them--we just didn't want to be in their pocket. I think the American people understand what we mean by clean energy independence. It is the right goal, and I would say the scientists in Oak Ridge whom I talked with on Friday seemed to agree. A new Manhattan Project is not a new idea. But it is a good idea and fits the goal of clean energy independence. The Apollo program was a sort of Manhattan Project. It sent men to the Moon. Senator McCain and Senator Obama have each suggested a new Manhattan Project for energy. I think it is time for us to begin to put some flesh on the suggestion. What would they mean? Have something ready for them and for us that we could move ahead with. Many Senators have made a similar suggestion. It is time to do more than talk. During the passage of the America COMPETES Act, we worked together across party lines--the Senator from Massachusetts, who was just here, was key to that. I worked hard on it. Senators MCCAIN and OBAMA and others worked on it as well. Senators DOMENICI and BINGAMAN were the leaders on that legislation here in the Senate. Several suggested as part of that discussion on how to preserve America's competitive edge that we should focus on energy because focusing on energy independence would force the kinds of investments we need to keep our competitive position in the world. In 1942, the prospect was that Germany would get the bomb before we did. That was the overwhelming challenge. The overwhelming challenge today, according to National Academy of Sciences president Ralph Cicerone, in his address to the academy 2 weeks ago, is to discover ways to satisfy the human demand for and the use of energy in an environmentally satisfactory and affordable way so that we are not overly dependent on overseas sources. Cicerone estimates that this year Americans will pay $500 billion overseas for oil; that is $1,600 for each one of us, some of it to nations that are funding terrorists who are trying to kill us. It weakens our dollar. It is half our trade deficit. It is forcing gasoline prices toward $4 a gallon and is crushing family budgets. Then there are the environmental consequences. If worldwide energy usage continues to grow as it has, humans will inject as much CO2 to the air from fossil fuel burning between 2000 to 2030 as they did from 1850 to 2000. There is plenty of coal to help achieve our energy independence, but there is no commercial way yet to capture and store the carbon from so much coal burning--and we have not finished the job of controlling sulfur and nitrogen and mercury emissions. I suggest the Manhattan Project of World War II fits today's proposal for a new Manhattan Project for energy in the following ways. The original project proceeded as fast as possible along several tracks to reach one goal. The entire project, one engineer said, was a shotgun approach, using all possible approaches simultaneously. It had Presidential focus and bipartisan support in Congress. It had the kind of centralized, gruff leadership that only an Army Corps of Engineers general could give it. It broke the mold. Dr. Oppenheimer told his scientists in 1945 that the bomb was ``too revolutionary to consider in the framework of old ideas.'' So is clean energy independence. It began with a small, diverse group of great minds, as this one needs to as well. There are also some lessons from the America COMPETES Act that we enacted just last year. Remember how that started. A bipartisan group of us asked the National Academies: Please give us 10 things that we, the Congress and the Government, should do to keep our brainpower advantage so our jobs don't go overseas. The National Academies took us seriously, and within 3 months assembled a small group of wise men and women headed by Norm Augustine, and they gave us 20 recommendations, and we considered them. The President had his ideas. We considered proposals by other competitiveness commissions. The Speaker of the House weighed in. Within a couple of years--it got a little messy a few times--we passed a blueprint which will put us on a path to double our investments in the physical sciences and significantly upgrade our competitiveness efforts from Washington. Some people have suggested that this year is not a very good year to try such a bipartisan approach. I think it is a perfect year to try a bipartisan approach. Senator Obama and Senator McCain and Senator Clinton seem ready for it. Congressman BART GORDON, the Democratic chairman of the House Science Committee is supportive--we were together in Oak Ridge on Friday. He and I are equally interested in this, just as we were equal participants in the America COMPETES legislation. I have talked to Senator Bingaman and Senator Domenici and Senator Murkowski. Many other Senators--I will not begin to mention them all--have suggested this idea. I would say a Presidential election is a perfect time for this. Voters expect us to have answers to $4 gasoline, for climate change, for clean air, and to the national security implications of our overdependence on foreign oil. The people did not elect us to take a vacation this year just because it is a Presidential election year. So how to proceed? When I spoke with Senator Bingaman, the chairman of the Energy Committee, he said: Well, instead of a single Manhattan Project, maybe we need several mini Manhattan projects. And he offered to me the example that Chuck Vest, the former MIT President who is the head of the National Institute of Engineering, has made. Dr. Vest made an address in which he suggested 14 grand challenges for the 21st century for engineering; three of them had to do with energy. I think Dr. Vest and Senator Bingaman are right. We do not do comprehensive very well. I think we proved that with the collapse of the comprehensive immigration bill. Step-by-step solutions along different tracks toward a single goal are easier to digest and have fewer surprises. And, of course, the Manhattan Project itself in World War II proceeded that way. So here would be my criteria for choosing several grand challenges toward the goal of clean energy independence: Grand consequences: This is not a project for small thinking. Real scientific breakthroughs: We know how to build nuclear powerplants. I think we should be doing it. We know how to drill 50 miles offshore for oil and gas in an environmentally safe way, giving a large part of the revenues to the States so that they can then put them in trust funds for education. I think we should be doing it. We know how to do a great many things that we are not doing. But this should not be about doing things that we already know how to do. This should be about the scientific breakthroughs to help us within 5 years get firmly on a path to clean energy independence. Family budget: Our solutions need to fit the family budget so gas prices and electricity prices are something that we can afford. And finally consensus: We need to come to some consensus. We found with the America COMPETES Act that when we went for consensus, we could pass an important bill. And the members of the Augustine panel wisely put aside some subjects relevant to competitiveness, like excessive litigation, which we could argue about for days. They left that to the side and focused on 20 things they thought we could agree on, and we did. So here are seven grand challenges that I would respectfully suggest to begin the suggestion, seven scientific breakthroughs that I believe we should focus on for the next 5 years to put us firmly on a path to clean energy independence which fit the criteria that I outlined. No. 1, make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace. And let me offer another story. Most people remember H. Ross Perot. Many people may have forgotten how he made his money. He noticed that the banks in Dallas in the 1960s were closing their doors at 5 o'clock and turning off their new computers. So Mr. Perot asked the banks: May I buy your idle nighttime computer capacity? And they said, yes. He then went to States such as Tennessee, before I was Governor, and said: May I manage your Medicaid data? I have some computer time. They said yes. So the banks made a lot of money, the States saved a little money, and Mr. Perot made a billion dollars. Now, what does that have to do with clean energy? I would mention this: I believe the idle nighttime computer capacity of the 1960s is a lot like the idle nighttime power plant capacity in the United States today. An example: The Tennessee Valley Authority in my neck of the woods, which produces about 3 percent of all of the electricity in the United States, has the equivalent of 7,000 or 8,000 megawatts of electricity idle most nights. That would be our largest untapped resource in the region: I would think every night, or most nights, seven or eight nuclear powerplants' worth of unused electricity. Add to that how, beginning in 2010, Nissan, Toyota, General Motors, and Ford--and possibly others--will sell electric cars that can be plugged into wall sockets. FedEx is already using hybrid electricity delivery trucks. TVA could offer smart meters. Many utilities are doing that. That would allow its 9 million customers at night to plug their car or truck in and for a few dollars fill up with electricity and then drive to work and back without using a drop of gasoline. It might take a while, but it has been estimated that because 60 percent of Americans drive less than 30 miles a day, we could gradually replace most of our light cars and trucks with plug-in electric vehicles that do not use gasoline and cut our overseas oil bill by perhaps as much as half. In other words, we have got the plugs, the cars are coming, we need the cord. To good to be true? Well, have not Presidents back to Nixon promised a revolutionary car? It has never happened. But times have changed. Batteries are better, gas is $4. The second grand challenge would be to make carbon capture and storage a reality for coal-burning power plants. This also was one of the National Institute of Engineering's grand challenges. And there may be solutions other than underground storage, such as using algae to capture carbon. Interesting, the National Resource Defense Council argues that, after conservation, coal with carbon capture is the best option for clean energy independence because it provides for the growing power needs of the U.S. and will be easily adopted by other countries. No. 3, make solar power cost competitive with power from fossil fuels. This is a second of the National Institute of Engineering's grand challenges. Solar power, despite 50 years of trying, produces on one-hundredth of one percent of America's electricity. The cost of putting solar panels on homes averages $25,000-$30,000 and the electricity produced, for the most part, can't be stored. Now, there is new photovoltaic research as well as promising solar thermal power plants, which capture the sunlight using mirrors, turn heat into steam, and store it underground until the customer needs it. No. 4, safely reprocess and store nuclear waste. Nuclear plants produce 20 percent of America's electricity, but 70 percent of America's clean electricity--that is, electricity that does not pollute the air with mercury, nitrogen, sulfur, or carbon. The most important breakthrough needed during the next five years to build more nuclear power plants is solving the problem of what to do with nuclear waste. A political stalemate has stopped nuclear waste from going to Yucca Mountain in Nevada, and $15 billion collected from ratepayers for that purpose is sitting in a bank. Recycling waste could reduce its mass by 90 percent, creating less stuff to store temporarily while long-term storage is resolved. No. 5, make advanced biofuels cost-competitive with gasoline. The backlash toward ethanol made from corn because of its effect on food prices is a reminder to beware of the great law of unintended consequences when issuing grand challenges. Ethanol from cellulosic materials shows great promise, but there are a limited number of cars capable of using alternative fuels and of places for drivers to buy it. Turning coal into liquid fuel is an established technology, but expensive and a producer of much carbon. No. 6, make new buildings green buildings. Japan believes it may miss its 2012 Kyoto goals for greenhouse gas reductions primarily because of energy wasted by inefficient buildings. Many of the technologies needed to do this are known. Figuring out how to accelerate their use in a decentralized society is most of this grand challenge. No. 7, provide energy from fusion. The idea of recreating on Earth the way the sun creates energy and using it for commercial power is the third grand challenge suggested by the National Institute of Engineering. The promise of sustaining a controlled fusion reaction for commercial power generation is so fantastic that the five-year goal should be to do everything possible to reach the long-term goal. The failure of Congress to approve the President's budget request for U.S. participation in the International Thermonuclear Experimental Reactor--the ITER Project--is embarrassing. To sum up the seven grand challenges: No. 1, make plug-in electric cars and trucks commonplace; No. 2, make carbon capture and storage a reality for coal-burning power plants; No. 3, make solar power cost competitive with power from fossil fuels; No. 4, safely process and store nuclear waste; No. 5, make advanced biofuels cost competitive with gasoline. That would be fuel made from crops that we cannot eat, not crops that we can. No. 6, make new buildings green buildings; and, No. 7, provide energy from fusion. This is a longer range goal, but one we should work on. Our country is remarkable. We have all of the talent that we had during the time of the original Manhattan Project in terms of university brain power, laboratories, private sector companies. We still believe anything is possible. These are precisely the ingredients we need during the next 5 years to place ourselves firmly on a path toward clean energy independence within a generation, and in doing so to make our jobs more secure, to help balance the family budget, to make our air cleaner, and our planet safer and healthier, and to lead the world to do the same.