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Hearing of the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee - Shock and Oil: Where Military Concerns Meet Consumer, Climate Crises

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Location: Washington, DC


Hearing of the House Select Energy Independence and Global Warming Committee - Shock and Oil: Where Military Concerns Meet Consumer, Climate Crises

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REP. MARSHA BLACKBURN (R-TN): Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

And I thank both of you for being here and I'm listening with interest to your comments about automobiles and the engineers that are bringing those forward.

As you know, in my district in Tennessee -- the 7th District of Tennessee -- we have a good bit of auto manufacturing, both within the district and on the fringes of the district. And I think that I've done a little car shopping lately and I've been amazed at how safe cars have become and the safety features that are included in those cars. And I agree with both of you that I think that when our auto engineers in this country -- who are the best in the world -- put their mind to it, they will be able to solve some of these efficiency problems. But Admiral Blair, as you were saying, the market needs to tell them. The American people need to say: This is something that we are looking for and that we want.

I remember the gas crisis of the '70s and what we went through there. I was a new mom with a new baby. And I remember what we were dealing with with those gas lines. So let me ask each of you, how do you think the American public would respond to rationing if we were to go through an oil crisis? We're looking at back the first of the year we had 2.29 (dollars) a gallon and now the average price in the country, I think, is at 3.01 (dollars) this morning. We've watched a barrel of oil since the first of year go from 55 (dollars) to this morning I think the Asia markets opened at $98 a barrel. And so you're looking at a 75 percent increase in the cost of a barrel. You are looking at a 34 percent increase at the pump.

So if we were to move to rationing, in your opinion, how do you think the American people would respond to that? And likewise, what do you think would happen with our domestic supplies if we only used our supplies and those of our close allies, like Mexico and Canada, who are our two largest oil-trading partners?

MS. BROWNER: Well, if you only used our supplies, Mexico and Canada, you would be in oil rationing. It wouldn't be a choice. You'd be there.

REP. BLACKBURN: And then how would the American people respond to that?

MS. BROWNER: I'll be honest with you. I don't think at this point in time particularly well. And I think that's because while individual families and Americans, in my experience, are always prepared to do their part to solve a problem, they want to know that the companies that make the product are also doing their part. And you know, I think there's a frustration that the American people have that they can't get more fuel-efficient cars.

Having said that, several manufacturers are now bringing to market the clean diesel engines which can get in a mid to -- I don't know how you size cars -- but in a sedan. I mean, a sedan that seats comfortably four and five people.

REP. BLACKBURN: A family vehicle.

MS. BROWNER: You can get 32 to 38 miles per gallon in a sedan with a clean diesel fuel. And those are becoming more and more attractive to people. So when offered a more efficient car within a class, people are looking at them and are starting -- you know, they're expensive right now. They will come down. They're only in certain high-end cars, but I think Ford is going to bring one to market in the not too distant future.

And so, you know, my experience is that as people become better educated, as there are more options, they will gravitate towards things that they think are good for their family, for their family's pocketbook and for the environment of their community.

REP. BLACKBURN: Admiral Blair?

MR. BLAIR: Yeah. I think the American people would have two reactions in that scenario that you sketched out. Number one, they'd be angry, frustrated and looking for what got them into that fix. And number two, they'd roll up their sleeves and they'd do what had to be done to make it better, to work their way out of it.

But I guess my feeling is since we know that now, why don't we take the actions now to avoid that crisis, because we know it'd be so much harder on us if we brought it to that point?

REP. BLACKBURN: You're right. And changed habits is a big part of that and looking at changed habits.

Let me ask you something in regard to that changing habits. You know, right now we do a lot transport by truck across our nation's highways. And I was reading something the other day about the efficiencies of rail. Do you all see any -- and I'm about out of time -- but I'd love to hear what your thoughts are about moving more of our movement of goods and commodities to rail and taking it off the highways -- any thoughts there?

MS. BROWNER: I certainly think it's something that needs to be considered. And the rail industry has been out there promoting what they can do. One note I would just add to it is, you know, again, we're thinking here today about sort of a short-term oil shock, but we should always be thinking about what else could happen. And so for example, a shift from one form of transportation to another -- what does that do in terms of greenhouse gas emissions? What does that do in terms of conventional pollutants? And I'm not suggesting that rail creates a problem. I don't know the answer. It'd be something worth understanding.

MR. BLAIR: Part of our proposals were that fuel efficiency standards should be applied to trucks as well as to cars. And make the trucks that we have more efficient also by applying the same sort of technology to them as we do to cars and raise the fuel efficiency standard of our truck fleet as well as our cars.

REP. BLACKBURN: And rail -- do you see that as an option?

MR. BLAIR: I think then if the market would -- the market would make the right adjustments. But I think we should work on the truck sector as well.

REP. BLACKBURN: Thank you.

I yield back.

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