Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) for December 16, 2007

“Passage of the Crucial Energy Bill”

Posted on December 14, 2007

This week the Senate took the most important step it could to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. In the energy bill we passed this week, the Senate told automakers in this country that they will have to make cleaner cars and trucks that use less fuel from now on. This, in turn, will help us deal with climate change and help to lower the price of gasoline at the pump. The energy bill also increases the opportunity for Tennessee to become a center for biofuels, which would help raise incomes of farming families, help clean the air, and further reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Many days in Washington there are so many competing views and so many different kinds of votes that it is hard to tell when something good happens. But every now and then, something really good happens in the Senate, like this passage of a crucial energy bill that has important implications for Tennessee. So I’m trying to follow the example of my late friend Alex Haley and, as he used to say, "Find the good and praise it." The energy bill that passed Thursday includes a number of energy efficiency provisions, the most important of which raises fuel economy standards for cars and trucks to an average of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. That is the first increase in fuel economy standards since 1975. This signals a clear consensus in the Senate that, for the first time in more than three decades, Congress is ready to say to everyone who makes cars and trucks in this country: You have to make cleaner cars; these cars have to use less oil one way or the other. We are not really saying to them exactly how they achieve that; we are just saying that by the year 2020 the cars and the trucks have to average 35 miles per gallon. This is a big step. How big? In response to my questions during a November hearing of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, Oak Ridge National Laboratory expert Dr. David Greene testified that the single most important way in the transportation sector to lower the nation’s dependence on oil would be to pass the Senate energy bill’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) provisions. Dr. Greene added that a $10 reduction in the price of a barrel of oil would lead to a 25 cent drop in the cost of a gallon of gasoline. In short, that means as we get more miles to the gallon and fill up the gas tank less often, it will reduce both the price of oil and gasoline. The bill also includes increases in renewable fuel production with standards that require that 36 billion gallons of ethanol and biodiesel be included in gasoline and diesel fuels by 2022. That will go a long way toward helping Tennessee become a center for biofuel production and further reducing our use of foreign oil. So in the midst of all of the procedural votes and debating these genuinely held differences of opinion, we were able to achieve the kind of bipartisan result that most Americans would like to see happen here. You know Senators have our differences. We will be back and forth on our votes. That is what we are elected to do. The tough issues come to the Senate. But in the end, we do not come here just to state our principles; we come here to get principled solutions. And with the passage of the energy bill, we have approved one of the most important principled solutions we can have in terms of energy efficiency. I hope that over Christmas time, Americans will look at this Congress and say: Good for you on energy independence, on climate change, on cleaner air, on reducing our dependence on foreign oil. You took the most important step you could take, and that is what we think a Congress ought to do. ###