Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks Of Sen. Alexander - Natural Gas Amendment To The Energy Bill

Posted on June 11, 2003

Madame President, I offer an amendment on behalf of Senators Santorum, Cornyn, Landrieu, Bingaman, the ranking member of our committee, and Senator Domenici, the chairman of our committee has joined the amendment, which I deeply appreciate. This is an amendment about the emerging natural gas crisis. It would require the Secretary of Energy within six months from the date of our enactment of the Energy Bill to submit a report on natural gas supply and demand. Madame President, I offer this amendment because I believe it will help us deal with what I'm afraid is an emerging natural gas crisis. If that were to occur, we'd be unable to protect our jobs, to heat or cool our homes at reasonable costs, or to clean our air to the standard that we wish. As chairman of the Energy Subcommittee working with our chairman of the full committee, I intend to help schedule hearings as soon as possible on this emerging crisis. This report and these hearings should help us take a hard honest look at what we do short-term and long-term. Madame President, Alan Greenspan is usually a little difficult to interpret when he testifies. But he was not difficult to understand on May 21st when he testified before the Joint Economic Committee. This is what he said about natural gas and I quote: Prices for natural gas have increased sharply in response to very tight supplies. Working gas and storage is presently at extremely low levels and the normal seasonal rebuilding of these inventories seems to be behind the typical schedule. The colder than average winter played a role in producing today's tight supply as to the inability of heightened gas well drilling to significantly augment net market production. Canada, our major source of gas import, has little room to expand shipments to the United States. Our limited capacity to import liquefied natural gas effectively restricts our access to the world's abundant supply of natural gas. The current tight domestic natural gas market reflects the increases in demand over the past two decades. That demand has been spurred by myriad new uses and by the increased use of natural gas as a clean burning source of electric power.' I asked Mr. Greenspan to elaborate on that, and I won't read all of his remarks, but this is the way he began his response to my question on May 21st... 'Senator Alexander,' Mr. Greenspan said, 'I am surprised at how little attention the natural gas problem has been getting because it is a very serious problem. It's partly the result of new technologies employed in the areas of growing technologies and the whole exploratory procedures which embarked over the last decade or so.' And he talked about our contradictory federal policies. This is not some abstract issue, Madame President. The price of natural gas was $3.50 or so last summer. It spiked to $9.00 per barrel in the winter. Today it's $6.25 or so. That affects the cost of heating and cooling our homes. But it affects our jobs in a big way. For example, a large chemical industry in our state came to see me when gas prices spiked up. The employees there, thousands of them, had taken a voluntary three percent cut in their pay, and management had taken a six percent cut in their pay. They were worried about the price of natural gas, which is a raw material for that chemical industry. But it doesn't just affect the chemical industry. In California, for example, where not much coal is burned because it pollutes the air, natural gas effectively sets the price for electricity. So this emerging crisis in natural gas affects jobs in the whole economy. As we've been debating here, there are answers, but we have contradictory policies. We have plenty of gas but no access to the gas. We have a lot of alternatives we are trying to encourage here, but when we talk about windmills, we think we may want to live under the limited number of windmills we want to see. When we talk about nuclear, we have very close votes because people are skeptical about nuclear power. When we talk about coal, we say - but it pollutes the air.' When we talk about drilling more oil, we vote no about going to Alaska. When we consider liquid gas from overseas, we worry it might blow up in big terminals on the seacoast. On hydrogen, we all are for it, but its 20 years away. The bottom line is we have contradictory policies. Short-term, this could slow down our recovery and keep unemployment high and hurt our jobs. Long-term, it could mean electric rates go sky high and our manufacturing jobs go to Mexico and go to China. We need an honest hard look at the consequences of our failure to achieve a balance of natural gas and its alternatives. And I would hope that this report required by this amendment would help to do just that, and I will work with the chairman, with the ranking member to make sure our committee hearings help do that as well.