Weekly Column of U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) - “On Climate Change”

Posted on June 8, 2008

There are many reasons I voted against the Boxer Climate Tax legislation defeated in the Senate this week. One of my chief concerns was the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) forecast that the bill would have raised gasoline prices 53 cents per gallon by the year 2030 with an additional 90 cents per gallon on top of that over the following two decades. The EPA noted that a 53-cent gas tax increase would hurt the pocketbook of the American consumer, but not reduce carbon emissions. In other words, it would have hurt family budgets while doing little to nothing for the environment even thought that was the bill’s purpose. The bill would have also created, over the next 10 years, what I would call a trillion dollar slush fund. It would collect money – in effect a carbon tax, through a cap-and-trade system on the entire economy of the United States – and bring it to Washington where members of Congress would, over the next 40 years, create about 42 mandatory entitlement spending programs for that money. Nothing is more dangerous in Washington than a $1 trillion slush fund for a group of Congressmen with ideas about how to spend it. Congress needs to take action on climate change, but this was the wrong bill. The best way to deal with the climate change issue would be a different approach – one that focuses on clean energy. I would much prefer to see the Senate talking about clean energy independence than see the President asking the Saudis to drill for more oil. We need to launch a new Manhattan Project for clean energy independence, so that within 5 years we will be well on our way to saying to the Saudis: “We want to be your friends, but we can take or leave your oil.” The way to do that would be, first, to begin to do the things we know how to do to increase supply. Explore for more oil offshore and the 2,000 acres in Alaska that we already know exists. Then we need to agree on six or seven grand challenges, such as those I suggested at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory a couple of weeks ago, to give us a chance to make breakthroughs that would give us that kind of clean energy independence. Those would include making plug-in cars and trucks commonplace, a crash program for carbon recapture, for making solar costs equal or as low as fossil fuel costs, advanced research for biofuels from crops that we don't eat, more new green buildings and even fusion for the longer term. I believe from the day the president and Congress announce to the world that we were engaged in a new Manhattan Project for clean energy independence that included supply, demand and research, the rest of the world would change its way of thinking. Speculators would get nervous. The price of gasoline would stabilize and eventually go down. Within 5 years, we would be well on our way to clean energy independence. That is the way to deal with high gas prices, high electric prices. That is also the way to deal with clean air, climate change, and the national security implications of our overdependence on foreign oil.