ENERGY -- (Senate - June 11, 2008)
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Mr. CHAMBLISS. Mr. President, I rise to discuss the most important issue on the minds of my constituents in Georgia and, I know, folks all over the country; that is, skyrocketing gas prices. I hear from hundreds of Georgians every day who are struggling to fill their gas tanks to get to work or to take their kids to school or to run their necessary errands. They want to know what Congress is doing about these out-of-control gas prices.
Nobody disputes the fact that the United States is dependent on foreign sources of oil, and nobody disputes that this problem has been in the making for any number of years. We currently import more than 60 percent of our oil and, over the past 30 years, we have reduced our domestic exploration options and left our refining capacity stagnant. But we can do something to provide relief to American families who are really feeling the pain at the pump. If we can do something about it, the obvious question is, Why aren't we?
Let's look, first, at what the Democratic response has been to high gas prices. Yesterday, we voted on a so-called energy bill proposed by the majority. The two highlights of this bill to address skyrocketing gas prices are, first, sue OPEC. The Democrats want to sue the individuals we are doing business with as a means of lowering gas prices. This is hard to understand. Second, the Democrats propose to put a windfall profits tax on big oil companies that are certainly achieving big profits in today's market in the petroleum industry.
I had a group of businessmen from Georgia in my office yesterday. They were small businesspeople, but they were all from the same industry.
I said: OK, let me ask you this. If the Federal Government walked into your office and said, we are going to put a windfall profits tax on you; we are simply going to raise your taxes by an extraordinary amount, what would be your reaction?
They said: It is pretty simple. We would do two things. First, we would try to reduce our profits below a point where we would not be subject to a windfall profits tax, and that means we would decrease production. The second thing we would do is, if we had a tax that we had to live with, we would pass it on to our customers.
Again, to think that a windfall profits tax on oil companies is going to decrease the price of gasoline is somewhat foolish.
What has been the Republican response? Where should we go? There are very clearly four separate issues that need to be addressed with respect to the issue of skyrocketing gas prices. The first one has just been alluded to by Senator Bond from Missouri; that is, we simply need to take advantage of additional resources we have inside the United States. We, as Republicans, have sought to do that.
On May 13, less than a month ago, Senator Domenici and Senator McConnell proposed an amendment to expand exploration in the ANWR region of Alaska and to authorize drilling in offshore coastal waters currently subject to a Federal moratorium--in other words, deep-sea exploration. This amendment was defeated. Mr. President, 43 Republicans voted for the amendment; 48 Democrats voted against the amendment.
So once again, as is known throughout the country, Republicans are consistently advocating--and have for all of the 14 years I have been privileged to serve in the Congress--exploration for more domestic oil in this country to alleviate our problem, while the Democrats continue to oppose measures to explore domestically.
Now, of the four things we need to do, certainly exploration for more oil is one of those. We do have a lot of capacity in this country that has simply gone unexplored over the years. There is deep-sea exploration available to us. There is oil in the ANWR region of Alaska, which we have consistently sought to explore, as well as now we know that in the Rocky Mountains of our great country, we have a greater resource of oil than exists in Saudi Arabia. It is simply imperative that we explore more from a domestic standpoint.
Secondly, supply and demand dictates the price of everything in our economy. We simply have to implore our oil companies to provide more gasoline to Americans. We are seeing today more people driving to the gas pump than ever before in the history of our country simply because of the increase in the population. Our economy has done pretty well in the last several years. People are traveling more than ever before. We must have the capability to provide the kind of supply that is demanded by Americans.
Thirdly, we have to continue down the road of researching and developing more alternative fuels. Historically in this country, we have shied away from that. We have seen the development of ethanol primarily in one region of our country, the Midwest. But when you get to the Northeast or the Southeast or even, for the most part, the far West, you simply do not see a supply of ethanol. It is concentrated in one part of our country. But that is changing. It is changing now, and we are seeing more production facilities built in all parts of the country.
But there is an unintended consequence that nobody thought about. We have 101 ethanol-producing facilities online in this country today. We have another 100 ethanol manufacturing facilities that are scheduled to come online in this country in the next 14 to 18 months. All but two of those facilities are producing ethanol from corn. The unintended consequence we have seen due to the high demand of corn for energy production is an increase in food prices. Corn, wheat, soybeans, peanuts, or other commodities have simply increased in price because of the demand for corn; therefore, farmers are planting more corn and less of the other commodities. That is the unintended consequence.
I am very proud of the fact that in the farm bill we just passed we addressed the issue, that we ought not to incentivize the production of additional ethanol from corn. But what we have done in that farm bill is to provide funding for research--grant money as well as loan money--as well as funding for the construction of additional ethanol and biodiesel facilities to be resourced not with corn but with cellulosic-based products.
The Presiding Officer comes from a part of the country where corn can be grown in great quantities and great quality, I might say. But in the southeastern part of the United States, because of our hot weather and our soil is not as rich and our rainfall is not as consistent as the midwest part of the country, we cannot grow corn the way it can be grown in the Midwest.
But there is one thing we can grow like nobody else; that is, a pine tree. What we are seeing in Georgia today is the construction of an ethanol-producing facility that is going to be resourced with pine trees. It is one of two facilities that are under construction in the country today where cellulosic products are, in fact, going to be used. So I am very proud of the fact that in that farm bill we have sought to incentivize additional production of ethanol from cellulosic-based products.
The fourth thing we have to do--Americans have been very spoiled. We are used to getting in our car and going where we want to go when we want to go, and when the time comes when we have finished our business and want to move on, we are used to getting in our vehicle and moving on, by ourselves for the most part. That simply has to change. We have to implement conservation practices from a personal household standpoint like we never imagined we would have to do in this country.
From a political, legislative policymaking standpoint, we have put some measures in place that are going to dictate to the automobile manufacturing industry that they have to develop automobiles that get higher miles per gallon. That is good. But we also have to implement some personal measures to make sure we truly do have conservation practices in place.
I had a constituent say to me just the other day: SAXBY, I don't understand this issue of why we are not exploring for more oil domestically when everywhere I go, people tell me, why aren't we exploring for more oil that we know we have in America? He said: What you ought to do is call for a national referendum on this, and let's see what the American people, by and large, think of this issue.
It is difficult, frankly, to do that, although I think it is a very good idea. I would like to know what the masses in other parts of the country think. I certainly know what they think in my part of the world. But there is one thing very similar that I think should be considered.
I note that just yesterday, the American Solutions for Winning the Future announced that over half a million Americans have signed a petition online urging Congress to immediately start exploring for oil domestically to lower gasoline prices. Now, here is the way the petition reads:
We, therefore, the undersigned citizens of the United States, petition the U.S. Congress to act immediately to lower gasoline prices (and diesel and other fuel prices) by authorizing the exploration of proven energy reserves to reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources from unstable countries.
According to American Solutions' resource data, 81 percent of the American people support the United States using more of its own domestic energy resources to combat the rising cost of energy. I cannot say that I am surprised by that statistic, but I think it further underscores how Senator Domenici's bill is a commonsense plan for lowering gas prices for Americans, and doing it now.
Another commonsense solution Republicans have offered, which I have supported, was proposed by Senator McCain. This would provide an immediate Federal gas tax holiday. What does this mean to our American consumers? Well, here we are going into the summer when travel certainly increases. If this bill passed, as soon as tomorrow, if it got to the President's desk and he signed it, each and every American could be paying 18.4 cents per gallon less for gasoline and 24.4 cents per gallon less for diesel fuel.
The Democrats promised leading up to the November 2006 elections that if you send the majority of Democrats to Congress, we are going to address this issue of gasoline prices, we are going to get prices under control. Well, at the time Senator Reid became majority leader, at the time Congresswoman Pelosi became the Speaker of the House, the price of a gallon of gasoline in this country was $2.33. Today, average prices have increased by $1.71 cents per gallon over that last year and a half.
We all know summertime is the time when families take an annual vacation. Americans generally drive more during this time of the year. Giving a temporary gas tax holiday until Labor Day is a pure short-term policy and will benefit Americans only in the short term, but I think it is another way we can provide immediate relief to American families.
This is an issue that ought not to be partisan in nature. It is an issue all Americans are feeling every single day. It is an issue we as policymakers should address. It is an issue that cries out for strong leadership in Washington today. We need to see that leadership come forth out of this body. We need to see the American people given some relief and given a long-term solution to this issue of gas prices; otherwise, the next generation is going to be looking at much higher energy costs than what we are looking at today.
With that, Mr. President, I yield back.
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