Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander - Natural Gas

For the week of April 11, 2005

Posted on April 18, 2005

With natural gas prices at record levels and the highest of any industrialized country, last week I introduced legislation that takes bold and aggressive steps to lower the cost of natural gas. High natural gas prices are threatening our jobs, our farms and hurting Americans who are trying to heat and cool their homes. Only an ambitious, comprehensive approach that both increases supply and controls demand can lower the price of natural gas and keep our growing economic recovery from becoming recent history. This is not a question of tweaking our natural gas policy. It is time to aggressively revamp it. We need aggressive conservation, aggressive use of alternative fuels, aggressive research and development, aggressive production, and for the time being, aggressive imports of liquefied natural gas. In March 2002, the Secretary of Energy requested that the National Petroleum Council undertake an extensive study on the natural gas crisis. The National Petroleum Council, a federal advisory committee to the Secretary of Energy, produced in late 2003 one of the most extensive policy studies and recommendations on the natural gas crisis to date. Since that time, other prominent groups, such as the National Commission on Energy Policy, have also produced extensive studies on the natural gas crisis. In October 2004, I held a roundtable in Nashville on the impact of soaring natural gas prices on Tennessee farmers and jobs. The Senate Energy Committee has held numerous hearings over the last two years and held an extensive Natural Gas Roundtable on the subject in January. Over 100 proposals were submitted to the Senate Energy Committee on natural gas issues. The conclusion of all of these forums has been clear: - High natural gas prices are threatening our country’s economic competitiveness and costing us jobs. For example, high natural gas prices have been the equivalent of a 10 percent pay cut to American farmers. - The situation is urgent. - There are no silver bullets. We cannot conserve our way out of this problem, nor can we drill our way out of this problem. We will need to be aggressive on all fronts in order to keep our industries competitive. - High natural gas costs are also tied to high oil prices. We need to address both natural gas and oil prices in order to lower natural gas costs. - Our country has contradictory policies on natural gas – on one front, we encourage its use. On the other front, we limit access to its supply. We need to amend our contradictory natural gas and environmental policies in this country. The 250-page legislation I offered is an attempt to start a very difficult, but balanced, legislative discussion in the United States Senate on natural gas prices. I’ve taken the best ideas that I’ve heard in these roundtable discussions and from the various policy studies. My staff and I have met with hundreds of people in the past year discussing natural gas prices. This legislation is an attempt to be more aggressive on all three areas impacting natural gas prices – energy efficiency and fuel diversity, natural gas supply, and improved energy infrastructure. We are going to need serious progress in all of these areas and all must be discussed in the context of a comprehensive natural gas solution. I supported the Energy bill in the last Congress. My greatest concern about the Energy bill from the last Congress was that it did not address high natural gas prices adequately. Now that the Energy bill is coming up for discussion again, it is time to strengthen the Energy bill with bolder and stronger natural gas provisions. A comprehensive Energy bill typically only passes once every 10 to 15 years. It is important Congress acts soon on energy legislation and does it in the right way.