Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Climate Chage legislation

Posted on February 15, 2005

I salute Senator Hagel for his leadership and his contribution on this issue. I am glad to be here with my colleague, Senator Craig, who is one of the Senate's real authorities on energy. We have had some trouble passing an energy bill in the Senate. We are having some trouble passing a clean air bill in the Senate. If we are being logical, we would set clean air objectives and pass a clean energy bill to help reach that objective. We would do it at once and give ourselves a low-cost, reliable supply of energy, less dependent on the rest of the world, and do it in a way that is environmentally sound. That is our objective. We have different approaches on this, but Senator Hagel has put his emphasis today exactly where it needs to be. The United States of America is a country that has about a third of all the GDP in the world. We have 5 to 6 percent of the people and a third of all the money is one way to put it. How did we get that money? How did we get our position? The National Academy of Sciences says that since World War II, half our new jobs have come from advances in science and technology. There are other countries in the world - a growing number of countries - that have great capacity for science and technology. Some of the greatest scientists and engineers who have worked in this country have come from other countries in the world. But if any country in the world ought to be putting a focus on science and technology as a way of helping not just their country but the rest of the world deal with the issue of greenhouse gases, it ought to be the United States of America. Senator Hagel is exactly right to put the spotlight there. He does it in a three-part bill. In the first part, he talks about international cooperation. That also makes a lot of sense. Three weeks ago, I was visiting with the chairman of one of the largest energy companies in Germany. If there is a country in the world that has a more irrational energy policy than we do, it would be Germany. They have just decided to close 19 nuclear power plants at the same time Across the Rhine river, France is 85 percent nuclear power. Of course, Germany will never do that because they will not be able to meet the Kyoto carbon standards if they close the plants. But the point that my friend from Germany was making is that we are headed, in his words, toward an energy catastrophe. It is a catastrophe of two kinds. One is energy supply, and one is clean air. Now, why is that? It is because other countries in the world are growing. In China, the average Chinese person uses about one-sixth the amount of energy that the average person in the European Union uses, in the 15 original countries. Now, in China, when the average Chinese person, with all the people there, gets up to three-sixths or four-sixths or five-sixths, etc., as they will, there will be an unbelievable demand for energy in this country. We are already seeing it in the prices for natural gas and in the prices for oil. The figures we heard in our Energy Committee were that over the next 25 years - and my numbers are approximate - China might build 650 new coal plants to begin to supply its energy, and India might build 800. That does not count the rest of Southeast Asia or what Brazil might do. So we cannot just look at this issue in terms of what is happening in the United States. If there is not a supply of energy and the other countries are demanding so much, our prices will be so high that our million chemical jobs in the country will move overseas looking for cheap natural gas. And it will not make much difference how we clean the air in the United States of America if China and India and Brazil build so many old coal plants and throw stuff up in the air because it will blow around the world and come over here. So we have, on two counts, a major challenge: energy supply and clean air. It would make enormous sense for the scientists and engineers in the United States to work with the scientists and engineers in Germany, who have exactly the same challenge, and the scientists and engineers in China, who have even more of a challenge. They have just stopped 26 of their coal plants because of environmental concerns, but they will not be able to stop them for long because of their need for an energy supply. What the Senator from Nebraska has done is to say to us, hey, we are talking about mandates and rules and regulations, but what we ought to be trying to do is to create a solution to the problem using the thing that we in the United States do better than anybody, or historically have, and that is our science and technology. This is the country with the 50 great research universities. This is the country with 20 national laboratories. The Oak Ridge National Laboratory, in my home state, is already doing important work on how we recapture carbon. One of the things we can do in the Senate, without arguing about Kyoto and without arguing about mandates, is to say, let's see if we can - through technology, working with people in other parts of the world, and encouraging our own businesses and laboratories - find better ways to deal with greenhouse gases. I salute the Senator for that. I am glad to have a chance to be associated with this bill. Now, the second thing I would like to say is that is not all there is to do. We have different opinions in this body about so-called global warming.' I believe, of course, there is global warming. Our grandparents can tell us that. The question, as Senator Craig said, is - what is causing it? And do we know enough about it to take steps? We have different opinions about that issue. That does not mean we are all unconcerned about it; we just have different degrees of understanding of it and different opinions about the evidence we see. I have a little different opinion than the Senator from Idaho. I support legislation that Senator Carper, Senator Chafee, Senator Gregg and I supported in the last session of Congress that puts modest caps on the utilities section for the production of carbon. I was not willing to go further than that because of the science I read, and I am not sure we know exactly how to solve this problem. My reading of it did not persuade me: one, that we know all that we need to know about global warming; and two, maybe more importantly, I was not sure we knew what we were doing by just saying, okay, we will do this without having the solution. Again, Senator Hagel has suggested that we come up with some technology. Let's come up with some science. And then we can make a better assessment about what we would be able to do if we were to put a cap on it. I would suggest that in addition to Senator Hagel's technology that he encourages in his legislation - that is one way to do it - a second way to do it is with some kind of caps, and there are a variety of proposals in this body to do that. That also encourages, in my opinion, technology. But then there is also a third point to make, which takes us out of the debate as to whether it is a good idea or a bad idea to put on mandatory caps. If China is going to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants, and India is going to build hundreds of coal-fired power plants because that is the only technology available to them and the only source of fuel they have readily available, then we had better get busy trying to figure out a way to recapture carbon - not to comply with the Kyoto Treaty but because we are going to have to have it in this world. Any realistic look at the sources of energy in the world says that for the next 20 or 25 years, nuclear power, natural gas, oil, and coal will be almost all of it. There is a lot of support for renewable energy. Some people want to put up wind turbines taller than football fields covering square miles. I do not. I think that destroys the American landscape, and it does not produce much energy. But one of the most thoughtful presentations I have heard on the solution to our common issues of clean energy and clean air has come from the National Resources Defense Council, one of the leading environmental organizations in this country. They are in favor of a coal solution - I hope I am attributing this correctly to them - of a coal solution for our clean air, clean energy policy. A big part of their reasoning is that they see what is happening in the rest of the world. If the United States, they reason, can figure out a way to gasify coal and then recapture the carbon, that gets rid of most of the noxious pollutants - sulfur, nitrogen, mercury. It recaptures the carbon, which we have not really figured out how to do yet, but it does not just do that for the United States, it shows the rest of the world how to do it. And then China, instead of building 800 new coal plants with the old technology, will build 800 coal gasification plants and recapture the carbon. India will do the same, and maybe Germany will do the same. There will be more energy, and we will all be able to breathe. And that is quite irrespective of mandatory caps. One of the things I like about Senator Hagel's proposal is there is not any way to study the technology of how we deal with greenhouse gases without getting into questions of coal gasification and the recapturing of carbon. There is not any way to do that. He is leading us to the tantalizing possibility that in the United States we might one day be able to say: We are the Saudi Arabia of coal. We have 500 years' worth of it. We can turn it into gas. We can recapture the carbon. We can use that to create the hydrogen for the hydrogen economy that we think might one day be down the road, and that, plus our supplies of natural gas and nuclear power, will give us clean energy and will give us clean air and will show the world how to do the same. The Senator from Nebraska has put the spotlight where the spotlight ought to be. The United States of America, of all countries, should start with technology and science and say: Greenhouse gas is a problem. We are still researching how much of a problem it is. But we should, working with other countries, use our science and technology to deal with it and, in the process, see if it can lead us toward that brilliant intersection of clean energy and clean air that will one day give us a steady supply of energy and clean air that we can breathe. I salute the Senator for his leadership and am glad to be a cosponsor. I look forward to working with him. As chairman of the Senate subcommittee on energy, we have some jurisdiction over global warming as well as energy technology commercialization. Senator Domenici, chairman of our full committee, had a full roundtable the other day on natural gas. We have one coming up on coal and coal gasification. I can assure my colleagues that the Hagel legislation will be an important part of that roundtable. I will do my best to make it an important part of energy hearings.