Speeches & Floor Statements

Remarks of Sen. Alexander - Cantwell Amendment to the Energy Bill

Posted on June 15, 2005

Mr. President, I thank the Senator from Washington for her contribution to the debate today and for her contribution to the debate in our committee process. While it may seem like “inside baseball'' to those outside the Senate, the process here is very important. We don't get anywhere unless we have some sort of consensus. That is the way this body operates. So far, over the last several years, we have not had a consensus on energy. I thought the Senator from Washington, at the close of our committee markup proceedings a couple of weeks ago, made a very important comment. She said this was a clean energy bill, but she said it also was a clean process. She was referring to the fact that both Senator Domenici, the Republican chairman, and Senator Bingaman, the Democratic ranking member on the committee, have been working together to try to identify areas of consensus. Senator Domenici literally set out on that by going from office to office on the Democratic side and on the Republican side to see what he could do. We all had our say. We didn't all get our way in those proceedings, but we had long hearings on gas, we had long hearings on coal, and we had much discussion of renewable energy. In the end, we reported to this body a piece of legislation with a vote of 21 to 1. There was only one dissenting vote. The Senator from Washington made an important contribution to that discussion, as she did today, with her discussion of biodiesel, which is a promising renewable fuel. It is in its infancy. We don't know how far it will go. Biodiesel has only contributed about 2 percent of all of the fuel we use in the United States today. We have to always remember what a huge economy we have and how long and how much it takes to turn it around. But she offered an amendment that the committee adopted and which was included in the bill now before us. It has as part of the mandate for use of renewable fuels biodiesel. The Senate, by a large vote a few minutes ago included, I believe, an 8 billion gallon standard for renewable fuels. So she made an important contribution. And the spirit of our discussion so far has been that we recognize the urgency of the issue we are talking about, which is blue-collar workers, homeowners, keeping jobs from moving overseas, and that this is serious business and we need to get it right. I will make some observations about the senator's amendment. There will be three observations. One is I respectfully suggest she has the wrong goal for the near term. Two, I suggest the bill we have before us actually presents an excellent, balanced approach toward what we need to do. Three, I will reemphasize the importance of not just reducing our dependence on oil, the growth of our dependence on oil in the United States - that is the goal, I believe - but lowering the price of natural gas for the benefit of blue-collar workers, homeowners, and farmers. That is the point. The senator talked about President Kennedy and probably the most celebrated goal of the last 100 years - certainly one of the most celebrated in our history, and very much in keeping with the American spirit and character. We are always setting high goals, such as “anything is possible'' and “all men are created equal'' and “we will pay any price and bear any burden to defend freedom.'' A lot of our politics is about the disappointment of not reaching those goals. In fact, most of American history is the story of setting high goals, missing them, being disappointed, and recommitting ourselves to the goals. But the goals we remember and the leaders we remember are the ones who have challenged us within some reason. We used to have a wonderful citizen of Tennessee named Chet Atkins, who played the guitar. He may have been the best guitar player in the world. He always said: “In this life, you have to be mighty careful where you aim, because you are likely to get there.” I don't think we would have remembered President Kennedy as well if he had said in 1960 that we need to put a man on Mars by 1970 or a man on Jupiter by 1970. President Kennedy didn't say that. That would have been far outside of our reach. Our scientists knew that, but it was within our reach to go to the moon. He said that and challenged us, and we figured out the details of doing it. I suggest the goal of the Senator from Washington would be like putting a man on Mars. It is out on another planet, it is somewhere out there. It might be the right goal one day, but we have to go to the Moon before we go to Mars. I suggest her goal is the wrong goal. The Senator suggests that the United States, over the next 20 years, reduce its dependence on foreign oil by 40 percent. That sounds pretty good, like going to Mars might have sounded pretty good in 1960, but we would never have gotten there. Let me try to put her goal in perspective. She says get rid of 7.6. We use about 20 million barrels of oil a day in the United States. It supplies about 40 percent of all of our energy. The Energy Committee, including the Senator from Washington, considered all of this, and we came to a consensus that we should look for wherever the moon might be in this goal. And we said: Let's save 1 million a day. Let's ask the president to save 1 million a day by the year 2015, 1 million of that 20 million. That million is a pretty big number. Drilling for oil in ANWR, which we argued so heavily in this body, would produce about 1 million barrels of oil a day. If I am not mistaken, if we were to adopt the CAFE standards legislation that Senator Cantwell herself suggested in earlier debates, that would have saved about 1 million barrels of oil a day. But she is saying 7.6 million barrels of oil a day over the next 20 years. I agree it might be possible to go higher than 1 million barrels of oil a day. Senator Johnson and I introduced the National Gas Price Reduction Act of 2005 earlier this year. We had in that an oil savings amendment of 1.75 million barrels of oil a day. All these amendments direct the president to figure out a plan for doing this and then to implement it. These are not just idle suggestions. I think there is a consensus in this body, certainly on this side and that side of the aisle, and I might say, as Senator Bingaman mentioned, we did not really vote Republican and Democrat in our committee hearings. We had a lot of votes, but they generally split on our individual views and regions, not whether we are a Republican or a Democrat. I think there is still a consensus here. Of course, we want to reduce the growth of our dependence on oil , but to say our goal should be to reduce by 40 percent in 20 years our reliance on oil is somewhere out on another planet, not within our reach. Many of us have been reading very carefully the National Commission on Energy Policy report called “Ending the Energy Stalemate, A Bipartisan Strategy to Meet America's Energy Challenges,'' that includes within it a broad variety of people - Mr. Holdren, Bill Reilly, Mr. Rowe from Exelon Corporation, a representative from the United Steelworkers. We all read it, and I suppose we all like the parts we agree with and try to agree with some things that may have changed our mind. Here is what this commission report, which is an excellent report, says about oil: Over the last 30 years, the United States has sought to improve oil security by promoting a greater diversity of world oil suppliers, reducing domestic consumption through a substantial increase in new passenger fuel economy between 1975 and 1987, and creating the largest dedicated strategic petroleum reserve in the world. Due to these policies and as a result of structural shifts, the U.S. economy today is less oil -intensive and therefore less vulnerable to oil price shocks than it was in 1970. The fact that oil imports have nonetheless steadily increased since that time suggests that calls for energy independence - while rhetorically seductive - represent the wrong focus for the U.S. energy policy. To try to get another example of the practical effect of the amendment of the Senator from Washington, we asked the Energy Department to take a look at it. Here is what they said. Remember, the Cantwell energy security amendment calls for a 7.64-million-barrel-per-day reduction in oil consumption over the next 20 years. EIA, the Energy Information Administration, which looks at all these things, estimated that by a combination of policies outside the transportation sector, the upper limit of what we could do in this country would be 2 to 3 million barrels of oil per day. So we take out 2 or 3 million barrels of oil a day and let's say that leaves 4.5 million barrels oil per day. The Cantwell amendment would require the president to, therefore, impose on the transportation sector of our economy this achievement, and here is what it would translate to in terms of a CAFE standard miles per gallon. It would require a 78.6-mile-per-gallon CAFE standard. That is a 185-percent increase over today's standard. And it would require 60.8 miles per gallon for light trucks. That is a 174-percent increase. I submit that is putting a man on Mars instead of a man on the moon. That is somewhere off on another planet and not anything that we could reasonably do. The effect of enforcing that on the American economy would be to destroy jobs and raise fuel prices and raise expectations and disappoint the people who sent us here. I much prefer the approach the committee bill takes that came out of the committee 21 to 1, with a very broad consensus. I will admit, we all recognized, when that came out, that we would reserve for debate on the floor some of the more contentious issues, such as MTBE, global warming, CAFE standards, and the size of the oil savings amendment, about which we are talking today. We said 1 million a day. That is what the committee could agree on. I and Senator Johnson thought 1.75. Senator Cantwell is at 7.6, and that is the wrong goal. What would the right goal be? The right goal is to say, of course, we want to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. It makes no sense whatsoever for us to rely for so much of our oil on an area of the world where men and women are getting blown up every day, including a great many Americans. It makes no sense whatsoever. So our goal should be this: Putting us on the path to a steady supply of low-cost, adequate, American-produced clean energy - low-cost, adequate supply of American-produced clean energy. As we do that, we reduce our reliance on all oil. We reduce our reliance on oil not just from around the world but from this country. Here would be some of the things that are already underway in this bill. As I mentioned, we just adopted an 8-billion-gallon requirement for renewable fuels. Personally, I think that is a little high. That is stretching the limit. I believe the House of Representatives is at 5. Remember, only at 2 percent of all of our energy is renewable fuels. So we have done that. We have in our bill which is before the Senate research for biofuels, about which the Senator from Washington talks. They are very important, but they are minuscule at this time. We have a way to go. There are some associated waste problems that occur with them, and there are production problems about which we have to think. To produce large-scale biodiesel fuel requires large areas of land. We have to think about that as well. Clearly, we should do it in this bill, which supports research for that. If we are really serious about reducing our demand for overseas oil, then we should start with efficiency and conservation in the United States, both of oil and natural gas because they often come together. And so the provisions in this legislation, twice as strong as last year's Energy bill, provide for efficiency and conservation standards for such items as appliance efficiency standards. It would avoid building 45 natural gas power plants of 500 megawatts each and save billions of dollars. This legislation also includes a 4-year national consumer education program which, when used in California, helped produce a 10-percent cut in peak demand. This is natural gas we are talking about. But we are talking about conserving energy, and oil and gas often are found together. If we were to add a provision, as I tried to do in the committee, and as I would welcome the Senator from Washington helping me do on the floor as we debate this bill, to encourage utilities to use first the electricity most efficiently produced from natural gas, we could save and conserve even more. Add that to the oil savings amendment of one million barrels of oil per day, which is in our legislation, which is about the same as the amount of oil produced onshore in the state of Texas, and then add on top of the provisions that are in the Finance Committee's mark that would continue the deduction for American consumers to purchase hybrid, and I would hope advanced diesel vehicles as well, that saves oil, that gives an incentive, that helps to change the market in a very promising way without a mandate. If we include the provision that is also in this legislation that supports discouraging large trucks from running their motors all night long so they can have their air-conditioning on and their TV on and their appliances on, one may think that is a small potatoes item, but it is actually a big potatoes item. Big trucks are a big part of our energy use in the United States. They are a big part of our air pollution in the United States. When we encourage them to plug into a battery instead of leaving their trucks on, we are using less oil. All of this is a well-balanced approach. So it is my respectful suggestion that we remember President Kennedy for saying, Let us go to the moon. We would not remember him as well if he had said, Let us put a man on Mars in 1970. I believe the committee approach is the right goal and is the right balance and much more realistic than the goal of the Senator from Washington State which, according to the Energy Department, would produce a CAFE standard of 78 miles per gallon for cars and 60.8 miles per gallon for light trucks. I conclude by making a general remark about natural gas and other aspects of how we ought to be producing energy in this country. One important part of it is American-produced. That is what the Senator from Washington is emphasizing with her amendment. Another important part is low cost. Another important part is reliable and adequate supply. We use 25 percent of all the energy in the world in the United States of America. We spend $2,500 per person on it. Another important part is clean air. This is not the clean air debate, but it is the debate that will solve the clean air problem, in my opinion, because clean air and clean energy are so intricately related. The legislation that is before this Senate begins with conservation and efficiency. That reduces our demand for oil, as well as natural gas, and helps to lower prices at least of natural gas. It goes next to increasing supply of natural gas, and I would say oil. Listening to the Senator from Washington, she is saying we need to reduce our demand for oil from overseas, and since it is unrealistic to think we could save this much oil in that 20-year period of time, that would suggest to me that she would be advocating a big increase in supply of oil as well as natural gas from domestic sources in the United States. In the legislation that Senator Johnson and I offered, we recommended that. It recommended that we look onshore and offshore for new supplies of natural gas as well as oil in the Rocky Mountain area and offshore. Well, that has been greeted with a very cold gaze by many Members of this body, including some who have created objections to unanimous consent agreements just to stop us from even considering increasing our exploration for drilling the large amount of oil and gas that we have just offshore, even though we could put the rigs far out to sea where no one could see them. It would seem to me as we are talking about oil savings, if we want to keep prices down in the United States and keep jobs here, we need to talk about oil and gas supply at the same time coming from the United States. I did not hear very much about that. We also need to hear more about LNG. I am speaking now of natural gas, which is an essential part of this debate. Many in the Senate often talk about gasoline prices. The truth is, as the Senator from Washington accurately observed, there is a huge demand for oil. Prices are going to stay up for the foreseeable future, that is the truth about it in terms of gasoline, and we need to learn to reduce our use of the oil. The one thing we can do is lower the cost of natural gas, which is a big part of this bill. That affects millions of blue-collar workers, millions of farmers, and tens of millions of homeowners. We have gone from having the lowest priced natural gas to the highest price natural gas, and this is outsourcing jobs, putting farmers out of business and making home heating and cooling prices too high. If we are going to reduce the price and conservation does not do it, the next best step is to import some from overseas. That goes directly in the face of what the Senator is talking about to reduce our supply of natural gas. If we do not import liquefied natural gas from overseas, we are going to be exporting jobs from America to overseas. So we can either import natural gas or export American jobs. We have to be realistic in the near term in what we have to do. I would hope that we could drill offshore and drill in the United States and use the extensive amounts of natural gas we have and bring down the price that way. But if we are not going to do it that way we are going to have to bring it in from overseas at least for a while until we have an alternative form of energy. When we talk about alternative forms of energy, we often go to the renewable fuels, and I will talk about those more in a moment. I am just as excited about those as anybody. We have in Memphis a Sharp plan, for example, that produces solar energy. They have exciting new technologies. In the Oak Ridge National Laboratory we have a whole division on renewable energy and renewable fuels. They have exciting new technologies in solar. That is only 2 percent of our energy and 2 percent of our fuels. We have to be realistic about where we are going from there. Where are we going to get the energy we need that will create this adequate supply of American-produced clean energy? After conservation, after new supply, we have to come to nuclear power. I suggest if we want to talk about American independence, we talk about nuclear power, that we do what France is doing. They are 80 percent nuclear power. We should do what Japan is doing. They are adding a nuclear power plant every year. We invented the technology. We have used it without incident for more than half a century in our Navy. We produce 20 percent of our electricity today from nuclear power and 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity comes from nuclear power. So if we really want American-produced energy, we need to build advanced nuclear power plants so that we can have them at a cost that makes us less reliant on oil and gas from overseas. Waiting in the wings and right behind nuclear power is coal gasification and carbon sequestration. I see the Senator from North Dakota on the Senate floor. He has been a leader in that area for a long time. He talks about it a lot and talks about it clearly. That technology is not completely with us yet. We know how to do coal gasification; that is, turn coal into gas and then gas into electricity. That gets rid of mercury, nitrogen, and hydrogen by and large. It still leaves carbon in the air, but there is a technology called carbon sequestration. We are a few years away from that, but if we accelerate research on carbon sequestration that would be a good goal. Then we can burn the coal we have in the United States, and we have a 400 or 500-year supply of it. We are the Saudi Arabia of coal. Conservation plus our own supply of natural gas, plus nuclear power, plus coal gasification and carbon sequestration would fuel this great big economy. One might ask, what does that have to do with automobiles? Well, hopefully, by that time we will also have invested a lot of money in research and development - not just for nuclear power, not just for carbon sequestration, but also for hydrogen, which the Senator from North Dakota is a leading spokesman for, and for fusion. When we get to hydrogen and these hybrid cars that we see being driven around America today - a gasoline engine with an electric engine that is called a hybrid - when that hybrid becomes an electric engine and a hydrogen engine, then we have to have some way to make that hydrogen. We are either going to import oil and gas from overseas as we are doing it now, we are going to supply it from our own reserves, we are going to conserve enough, we are going to make it from nuclear, or we are going to make it from coal gasification. I am glad we are having a debate about American energy independence. Just as President Kennedy is remembered for having the right goal by saying, Let us put a man on the Moon, and not for picking an unrealistic goal in 1960 and saying, Let us put a man on Mars in 1970, let's be realistic. Our bill stretches our country, causes us to aim differently, and if adopted will transform the way we produce electricity and will increase our independence on foreign sources of gas and oil. One last thought about renewable fuels, before I finish. We need to keep that in perspective. If we were a small country, we might be able to rely on renewable fuels or renewable energy, but we are not. We are a country that uses 25 percent of all the energy in the world. Stretch as we might, for the foreseeable future we are going to have to rely on conservation, on our own supplies of oil and gas, and, yes, on some oil and gas from around the world. Then we are going to have to invest in an incredibly aggressive way in advanced nuclear technology and advanced coal gasification and carbon sequestration technology if we are going to have a reliable, low-cost power of American-produced clean energy. I hope the Senate will prefer the committee report which was adopted by 21 to 1, that includes a balanced approach to the right goal. I would say it is more in keeping with President Kennedy's ``man on the Moon'' goal. This is a ``man or woman on Mars'' goal, and maybe we will get there one day, but it is unrealistic today. It would be disruptive of jobs if you set a 78 mile per gallon CAFÉ standard for cars, a 185-percent increase; a 60 mile per gallon standard for trucks, light trucks, a 174-percent increase. I hope we will stick with the consensus that passed 21 to 1, and one day we might also reach this goal.