Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - Bringing Down Gas Prices Today

Posted on July 20, 2008

Next week, the Senate is expected to take up legislation to address $4-plus gasoline prices. This debate is overdue and Americans are demanding that we consider every possible proposal both for finding more oil and using less oil. While I may not have been the best student in economics at Vanderbilt University years ago, I remember the lessons taught in Economics 101 which clearly tell us that the reason gas prices are high is because we have had growing demand and diminishing supplies. What we do today can help lower gas prices now and prevent them from continuing to rise in the future. I have joined 43 other Republican Senators to introduce energy legislation that almost every member of Congress should be able to support. The bill would increase American production by one-third over time. It gives states the option to explore offshore for oil and gas and keep 37.5 percent of the revenues. If I were the Governor, as I once was, I would have been delighted to have that extra support for my state. I would have put it in the bank and built the best higher education system in America, kept taxes down, and done some other things. The oil market would get more oil and our prices would begin to stabilize. That would be 1 million barrels a day, according to estimates from the Department of Interior. Remember, 85 percent of the area on the Outer Continental Shelf in which we could drill is now off limits. The Senate should take up that issue immediately. It would also lift the moratorium on oil shale development in Western states. We should proceed with that in environmentally sound ways. According to the Department of the Interior, three states would produce 2 million barrels a day. What do those numbers mean? It means we could increase our production by one-third -- increase American energy by one-third. Now, we only produce about 10 percent of the world's oil, but that makes us the third largest producer. We produce about as much oil as Saudi Arabia. We should make our contribution to finding more American energy by producing more oil, and there are many Republicans and some Democrats who are ready to do that. We also need to focus on using less. We are willing to do both. We understand both parts of the equation of supply and demand. Our suggestion and our legislation -- and I believe, personally, the most promising way for our country to rapidly reduce our reliance on foreign oil -- is to use plug-in electric cars and trucks. Now, when I first began talking about this, some people thought I had been out in the sun too long. But Nissan, Toyota, Volkswagen, Ford, General Motors are all going to make and sell electric hybrid cars to us within a few years. In Nissan's case an electric car that you simply plug in at night. In Nissan's case an electric car that you simply plug in at night. Where do we get the electricity to do that? We have plenty of electricity at night when demand plummets. In the TVA region, we produce about 3 percent of all of the electricity in America. We have the equivalent of 6 or 7 nuclear powerplants worth of electricity available at night which is unused. So TVA can bring me a smart meter and say: Lamar, you can fill up with electricity at night and drive your car 30 miles a day without using any gas. Three-quarters of Americans drive less than 40 miles a day. Over time, experts believe we could electrify half our cars and trucks, and do it without building any more new powerplants because we already have that unused nighttime electricity. The idea that doing something is not worth the effort because it will take 10 years to produce full results is no excuse. That was the reason many gave for opposing oil exploration 10 years ago. Did President Kennedy say we could not go to the Moon because it would take 10 years? Did President Roosevelt say we could not build a bomb to win World War II because it might take 3 years? Did our Founding Fathers say we have cannot have a Republic or a democracy because it might take 20, 30, or 40 years? Our greatest leaders have said this is the way we go in America. This is what we should be like in 5 or 10 years. We should have a new "Manhattan Project" for clean energy independence, to put us on a path toward that independence with 5 or 10 years. The United States and the world are waiting for us to enact a plan that will find more American energy and use less oil, so it can see that in the future we are on a path to energy independence. From the day we take those actions, the price of oil and gasoline will stabilize and begin to go down. It is possible to bring down today's price of oil with policies that will have their physical impact on oil demand or supply only in the future. That’s why I am looking forward to next week’s debate – but only if the Democratic Leader allows a full debate that focuses on both finding more and using less, rather than only allowing us to deal with half of the issue while pointing fingers and playing politics. Americans want us to work together seriously to solve this issue, and it’s time for the Senate to listen to them.