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Public Statements

Blue Dog Coalition

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

BLUE DOG COALITION -- (House of Representatives - July 17, 2007)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 18, 2007, the gentleman from Utah (Mr. Matheson) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.

Mr. MATHESON. Mr. Speaker, I come to the House floor on Tuesday nights, as often the Blue Dog Coalition does. And tonight the Blue Dog Coalition wanted to come to the floor of the House of Representatives to have a discussion about energy policy in this country. I think that energy policy is an issue that is so important on so many levels, in terms of the integrity of our economy, in terms of our national security, in terms of the affordability for those who are underserved.

It touches so many different issues. And that's why I think it's important for the Blue Dog Coalition to make its voice heard, to take on this very complicated issue that has so many different components, and to try to address it in a pragmatic and practical way. Because like so many issues in Washington, this is one that's not going to be solved by those on the extreme ends of the ideological spectrum, it is going to be solved by people who want to sit down and roll up their sleeves and come up with practical solutions on how we can provide an affordable and secure energy supply for this country.

Now, I am joined by two other Blue Dogs this evening, my colleague, Mr. Scott from Georgia, and my colleague, Mr. Melancon from Louisiana. We look forward to having a discussion tonight about this issue. And the Blue Dog Coalition energy principles is a document, the Blue Dog Coalition has endorsed that identifies certain principles that we think ought to be the basis of how we go about formulating energy policy in this country.

And by way of introduction, I wanted to yield as much time as he might consume right now to my colleague, Mr. Scott from Georgia.


Mr. MATHESON. Mr. Speaker, I think the comments from the gentleman from Louisiana are spot on in the context of we need it all. We need to look at a very diverse portfolio of energy supplies in terms of where we are today and where we want to be in the future. We want to, of course, develop as many different types of energy and diversify our portfolio, because, at the end of the day, having an affordable and secure source of energy is what makes the most sense for this country and for our economy.

While all of us would like to see a bunch of new technologies put in place immediately, the reality of this situation is it is going to take a commitment in the public policy arena and the private sector to bring a lot these technologies along.

These energy principles that the Blue Dogs have published represent a set of guidelines. I don't think the Blue Dogs come to the table saying we have all the answers. These are complicated issues that are going to require a lot of thought and a lot of work. But I do think that these principles help articulate a zone of reasonableness, if you will, within which this debate ought to take place.

Since we have kind of led into it, one of the key principles is that of fuel diversity, where the Blue Dogs think we should not be picking winners and losers, as Mr. Melancon said. We think you have to have a diverse energy supply portfolio to have future success in this country. So we encourage any policy that is going to add to fuel diversity, that is going to add to energy infrastructure in this country.

In the long term, if we are going to have energy independence, there is no question that a whole basket of opportunities are going to help create that. It is going to include issues of conservation and energy efficiency. It is going to include new fuels. It may be cellulosic ethanol, it may be biofuels. There may be other sources that are alternative sources compared to what we use today. And it is also going to include conventional sources of energy that we have today as well.

We have to take the longer view on this, and the longer view is at some point we may have a whole different set of energy options that don't exist today. How we get from here to there is going to take a commitment to develop those technologies and a commitment to make sure we access conventional supplies we have today to keep this economy moving in the right direction so that we can all have the economic growth and opportunity that is going to allow these technologies to develop.

So, we as Blue Dogs believe in it all, whether it is oil, or gas, or biofuels, or coal, or nuclear, or hydroelectric, or geothermal, or other technologies that I may not have even mentioned. You really need to put all of that on the table, all that on the table, to give this country the opportunity to make progress and to move forward and to have a responsible, diverse energy supply.

That is one of the key principles that the Blue Dogs have tried to articulate, and I think it is one that everyone in this Congress ought to be able to get their arms around in some form and see if they can recognize the value to this country if we do that.

Mr. Scott, I am happy to yield to you.


Mr. MATHESON. The gentleman mentioned that up to 16 percent of our natural gas is now being imported.

When we throw out the term energy, there are all different forms of energy, and it is dangerous to look at simple policy solutions when oil policy has its own implications. We know about dependence on foreign oil, but I don't think a lot of people realize we are increasing, although not yet to the same degree, but we are increasing our dependence on foreign supplies of natural gas as well. We have seen a lot of price increases over the past 5 to 7 years in the United States, and natural gas is such a key component of our economic model in this country. Those price increases can have such damaging effects on the integrity of our economy, let alone reaching each individual, particularly those on fixed incomes.

I think it is important to note, and that is the statistic that my colleague from Louisiana mentioned, we are importing natural gas into this country. I don't think a lot of people know that we are importing a lot of natural gas into this country. I want to piggyback on one other thing, short term and long term.

We have talked about how in the long run we hope technology takes us into some new places. But how do we get there. We can invest in developing those technologies, but traditional energy sources that we are using in the country today, be it oil or natural gas or coal or nuclear power, those are key components of the portfolio today. And as we move ahead in the long run and look for alternative fuels, I am sure they will provide a significant piece of that portfolio as well. But in that period before that takes place, this Congress ought to enact policies that help encourage a reliable supply of those conventional fuels that we are utilizing today. It is going to be important for our economy, it is going to be important for making process as an economy, and I think that is consistent, in fact I know that is consistent with where Blue Dog energy policy recommendations have gone.

I want to mention a second principle that is in this document, and that is the concept, because we are so concerned about maintaining energy security. We certainly don't want to go in the wrong direction. So we have taken our term PAYGO which is usually in the Congress in the context that if there is a new program that you want to spend money on, you have to find a way to pay for it. We have used that term in terms of Blue Dogs believe in energy PAYGO. That is we don't think that we should be enacting policies in this country that

reduce existing domestic production. We are concerned because there are some policies out there by some of our colleagues in this Congress that we are concerned may do just that. That doesn't match up with the notion of trying to make sure that we have a secure, reliable, affordable energy supply. And the statistics that my colleague from Louisiana mentioned about the projected growth demand in the future in this country, you don't want to go backwards and be cut back on our existing domestic capabilities and in that context increasing even more so our reliance on foreign supplies.

Another critical part of the Blue Dog principles is the notion that when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging. We don't want to create a greater reliance in terms of our reliance on foreign supply. And it is not just with oils. You have to put natural gas into that discussion as well because we are importing more natural gas than we have in the past, and we have to be very careful about if we reduce our natural gas production capabilities in this country, what that means in terms of prices and putting us in an even less secure, less dependent position than we are today.

I yield to my colleague from Georgia.


Mr. MATHESON. Well, I thank my colleague and I want to follow up with two more of the principles. There are eight in total by the way. We've already talked about a couple.

But one of the Blue Dog energy principles does have to do with climate change, and my two colleagues really have described mostly the thinking behind these principles, but to put in summary, the Blue Dog principles say, look, there's broad scientific consensus that climate change is happening.

Blue Dogs also believe it's taken place over a significant period of time. We need to make sure we get this right with a methodical approach, and it may very well be a long-term approach to try to change the direction we're going, but we want to make sure we get it right. There are some folks who want to act very quickly and in a radical way, and that may not be the best solution.

We also wanted to make sure we had a global approach. If we simply enact policies in this country, we may be exporting jobs and pollution overseas, and that doesn't get us to where we need to be because this is a global issue. So the Blue Dogs want to have an approach that tries to encourage global participation, an approach that does not disproportionately affect one industry or one sector. It needs to be an economy-wide approach in how we look at this issue and how we try to reduce our carbon footprint in affecting the climate change issue.

So I think the Blue Dogs have laid out a framework that makes a lot of sense. Again, as I said before, we don't claim to have the answer to every single aspect of this issue. We think we've established a framework that makes a lot of sense for people making good, sound decisions.

A second principle, and it really follows up on what my colleague from Louisiana said a little earlier, he was

talking about how people sometimes don't know what it takes to get energy to the point where you use it. People just pull the pump at the gas station. They don't have any real appreciation for the complex process it takes to get it to that point. And that applies to all forms of energy.

I think people take for granted when they flip a switch and the light goes on, that the light just goes on, and they don't have a full appreciation for what it takes to generate that electricity and get it delivered to that building or that house where the light switch exists.

And so another one of the Blue Dog energy principles recognizes we need to invest in the energy infrastructure in this country. It doesn't just happen without investment. It costs money, and whether it's a refinery expansion or whether it's an ethanol plant that my colleague from Georgia was talking about that we want to develop in this country or whether it's finding renewable sources, let's say, wind energy that makes electricity, that costs money. It doesn't happen without that type of investment.

It's going to take significant commitment from both the public and private sector in this country to ensure we have an energy infrastructure that can deliver reliable sources of supply and affordable sources of supply.

So we need to look for those. Again, the Congress we need to look for those public policy options, public policy decisions that create the environment for that to happen. It's not going to be done all by the government, nor should it be by the way. We want the marketplace to evolve and pursue the most efficient technologies and efficient delivery systems, the most efficient ways to make this happen, but we can help set the table, if you will, to make sure we have the right incentives in our economic model to encourage that to happen.

So that's another one of the Blue Dog energy principles that I think is very important, and we specifically point out within the electorate sector that we need to make sure we have investment in the transmission grid, investment in making sure it's efficient distributed generation.

During the previous hour, one of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle had their Special Order here just before us. I think one of my colleagues mentioned the notion that you may have a significant wind resource where you can put up a number of windmills, but it's going to go be in a remote area, and you have got to get that product, that electricity created by those wind turbines, from that remote area to where the load factor is, and that's going to be let's say in urban area that may be hundreds of miles away, and you have got to invest in a transmission system that allows that to happen.

So, as I said at the start of my comments at the start of this hour, it's a complicated issue. You can mention with energy and everyone kind of nods their head, but if you really start looking at all the sub-issues below that, there are a lot of issues out there. And the Blue Dogs are trying to articulate a pragmatic, practical approach to try to capture all those issues and have a good discussion with Members of both parties and try to create those good public policy decisions to help us get to where we want to be as a country.

So I wanted to again follow up on those two comments that my colleague from Louisiana mentioned, and with that I'm happy to turn over time again to Mr. Scott.


Mr. MATHESON. I think there are two broad issues out here. Our hour is drawing to a close, but there are two broad issues out here in the energy debate. One is energy independence and security, and the other is climate change challenge.

Now those issues are not mutually exclusive. In fact, a number of the provisions to pursue each of those issues are complementary, and we should look at it in that context. But I do think that the Blue Dogs have come up with a set of principles, we haven't been able to talk about every one of them tonight, and we will come back again on the floor to do that.

As I said, this is a complicated issue. There are a lot of layers to this issue, and this Congress needs to first recognize that level of complexity to make sure we make good decisions. You have to recognize the magnitude of the issue before you can make good decisions.

But I do want to touch on just one other area that is a principle the Blue Dogs feel is very important, and that's the notion that we need to have an aggressive effort at technology development. We talked a little bit about technology development tonight, but let's put it in perspective to where if we really want to get to a point where we have greater energy independence, and if we make progress on the carbon emission issue as well.

The technologies aren't there today that need to be there. First of all, is the technology called carbon capture and sequestration. More than half of all the electricity we make in this country is coal. You know what, this country has a lot of coal. In fact, one-fourth of the world's coal is right here in the United States. It's cheap, it's plentiful.

The way we burn it now we put CO2 in the atmosphere. The hope is that we can develop the technology to capture that carbon and sequester it. But that technology isn't there yet today.

So, when Blue Dogs talk about we need to make a significant and aggressive commitment to technology development, that's one of the technologies. It's real straightforward. We will have coal as part of our energy mix. I think most people think that in terms for the long run in terms of our electric production. But we have got to solve that carbon issue, and we have got to invest in technology.

Second, we have had discussions about cellulosic ethanol. We can't rely on corn as our source of ethanol in this country. There has to be a better way to do it. We have got to move technology in that direction. A third one, just to throw an example, battery technology.

We want to get to the point where we have the car you can go home and plug in at night and run on electricity. A lot of people have spent a lot of time and money trying to develop that battery technology. We are still not there yet.

That's an appropriate Federal role to invest and move ahead with that research and development. I just want to make sure, that's the other principle I get out tonight that the Blue Dogs believe in, that that's the right role for the Federal Government to do, to push the development of these technologies.

One of the greatest American strengths is innovation. That's what this country is all about. It's why we are a superpower. We have got to unleash that again and again. The government can't drive all that, but we can sure encourage it. That is what we ought to do.


Mr. MATHESON. I want to thank both of my colleagues for joining us. As I said, the Blue Dog coalition stands ready to work with people on both sides of the aisle. We approach these issues through a very, practical, pragmatic way. We want to do what's right for this country.

We are going to come back and talk about energy more and more. By the way, I think this is one of the great domestic policy issues. By that way, that's foreign policy implications, as my colleague pointed out in his comments earlier. It's one of the great issues we face as a country, and it's helpful to help drive forward that debate.

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