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Republicans' Energy ``Solutions'' Won't Solve our Energy Crisis

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 18, 2007, the gentleman from Oregon (Mr. Blumenauer) is recognized for half the remaining time until midnight.

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you very much, Mr. Speaker, and I have enjoyed listening to the last hour from my colleagues on the other side of the aisle give their version of what we should do to deal with the energy problems that we face.

You know, I found it amusing what we didn't hear in the course of their discussion. They were able to talk for one solid hour, and there was no mention of conservation. The fact that the United States has less than 3 percent of the world's proven reserves of oil, that we consume almost 25 percent of it, that we waste more than any country in the world, that it has taken George Bush longer to get to 35-miles-per-gallon fuel efficiency than it took Jack Kennedy to get to the moon, not one word about something that was going to make a difference.

We didn't hear one word about how long it would take if they got everything they wanted, if they surrendered America's energy future in toto by giving all of the remaining oil and gas leases going to some of our most precious and sensitive areas that was highly speculative, and is in fact opposed by some Republican governors like Governor Schwarzenegger of California. If you just turned all of that over, they didn't talk about how long it would take to produce. And our friends at home can do a little bit of research from independent analysts, and they'll find that that's 7 to 10 years into the future. They didn't talk about how long that would take.

You didn't hear one word about popping the speculative bubble. If they had been attending the hearings that we have had here in Congress in the course of the last couple months, we would find that experts, including people from the oil industry, have testified that up to $50 of this increase in the price of a barrel of oil is due to speculation. And we haven't heard one word about what they would do to pop the speculative bubble, which much faster than anything you can talk about draining all our resources and turning available land over to the oil companies, this would make a difference immediately.

We haven't heard from them about all of the flip-flopping that's going on. You know, we heard this land is off-limits. George Bush I issued an executive order that declared areas off limits to drilling. George Bush II and the Republican Congress for the previous 6 years didn't do anything about this. But George Bush, by a stroke of the pen, could reverse what his father put in place. Yet our friends didn't have anything to say about that.

It's interesting watching the flip-flopping that's going on in the Republican party. JOHN MCCAIN was against drilling in these sensitive areas when he was a candidate for President in 2000. In fact, he's maintained a position against drilling in the sensitive offshore areas until a few days ago when he's decided to change. Of course, he does not agree with my friends on the other side of the aisle that we should go into the Arctic Wildlife Refuge. Maybe he understands that that's the last place we should drill instead of the next.

We're finding that it is fascinating watching the jujitsu here where people are flipping around changing positions and there is no consistency, there is no honesty in terms of how long it would take, there is no effort to deal with some of the things that are actually running up the prices.

Mr. Speaker, the Democrats in Congress have been passing initiatives since we regained control to improve fuel efficiency that was approved over the objection of the Republicans and over the objection of George Bush and was delayed. We have had initiatives to improve efficiency to give people more tools, to shift from lavish subsidies to the most profitable corporations in the history of the planet, the oil companies that really don't need extra subsidies, and give it to alternative sources of energy like wind and solar that do need it now.

We are very concerned that we use the resources that are available now. It is absolutely facetious to suggest that we have locked up all of America's energy resources. What you didn't hear from my friends that have been talking for an hour is the fact that there are 68 million acres already under control of the oil and gas industry that they have chosen not to explore. They're not in production. 68 million acres. Indeed, the majority of the land that is available right now they have chosen not to use.

We have legislation from a number of my colleagues that I am proud to cosponsor that would simply require that the oil companies use it or they lose it. If they are going to have these leases, they're going to have to explore it. And if they don't, then they will lose the opportunity to tie up even more land. That simple expedient of using it or losing it would spark far more exploration than anything my colleagues talked about for an hour and would do it much sooner.

Second, we need to pop the speculative bubble. They haven't said anything about that. Not one word, other than one of my colleagues, to acknowledge that the speculators are at work. But no focus about what we're going to do about it.

As I mentioned, we have heard, including a top executive from ExxonMobil that testified before our Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, that speculation, along with weakening of the dollar and geopolitical risk, is responsible for driving oil prices up to $50 a barrel.

Now, I don't know whether the speculative bubble is $5 a barrel or $50 a barrel, but that is something that this Congress should do something about. It's something the administration has turned a blind eye to, and it's something my Republican colleagues have nothing to say about.

We have legislation to deal with that.

Congressman Larson from Connecticut has legislation that is pretty straightforward that if you are going to speculate in oil futures, you have to be willing to take delivery. Now, this is supported by people who are in the oil--it wouldn't affect anybody who is in the oil and gas business who's producing or delivering, but the people who are simply there to profit from speculation would have their wings clipped a little bit.

The Enron loophole which excluded this speculative activity in energy which was approved under the watch of this administration and the Republicans of Congress, excluded it from supervision from the Commodities Futures Trading Commission. We think it's time to close the Enron loophole. We think it's time to have more oversight rather than less.

Let's deal, for instance, with the amount of margin, the leverage that people who are doing something that's perfectly appropriate trying to make a buck, but we want to make sure that we don't have yet another speculative bubble that is hammering the American economy like we've seen with the housing bubble, what we saw in the stock market bubble. People turn a blind eye to it. We suggest we shouldn't do that.

It is important to ramp up efforts at conservation.

As I mentioned, it's taken George Bush, who sat in before us speaking from the podium immediately in front of me and declared that we were addicted to oil, the same George Bush who said at $50 a barrel the oil companies didn't need subsidies to be encouraged to develop oil resources but yet has consistently fought our efforts to shift unnecessary subsidies when oil prices were twice that.

It's taken this administration longer to get to 35 miles per gallon than it took Jack Kennedy to get to the moon.

We need to help provide consumers with more choices. We need to accelerate our efforts dealing with alternative fuels.

I see my colleague, Jay Inslee, has joined us here in the Chamber. Congressman Inslee serves with me on the Speaker's Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming who's done a great deal of work and research and has listened to the testimony that I have heard that there are a vast array of entrepreneurs ready to go right now with plug-in hybrids, with electric cars, that we should be accelerating this effort.

And before I turn to my colleague to elaborate on that, somebody who speaks with great passion, authority, and conviction, I would mention that the Federal Government itself, under the Republican administration, continues to have a vast fleet of gas-hungry SUVs. We're spending $3 1/2 billion through GSA for hundreds of thousands of vehicles and millions of gallons of gasoline. Wouldn't it be nice for this administration to get serious about not competing with the rest of American consumers by moving to more fuel-efficient cars ourselves, more biodiesel, alternative energy sources, plug-in hybrids, to be a leader rather than making the problem worse?

Congressman Inslee, I appreciate your taking time late at night to join me. I appreciate your leadership and advocacy, and I wonder if you might want to talk a little bit about some of the choices, based on your research and work, that should be made available to the American consumer.

Mr. INSLEE. You bet. And any time an optimist is talking at 11 o'clock at night about America's great energy future--and I think we do have a very great energy future before us, and I appreciate you sharing that sense of optimism.

And I'm optimistic because it is my belief that America has the same right stuff we had in the 1960s when Kennedy sent us to the moon and that same right stuff, that same intellectual fever, that same sense of a can-do spirit, that same innovative spirit is really available to us if we, in this building, will simply unshackle that creative power of America to solve our energy woes.

And the reason I came over here tonight is that I am very concerned that some folks are promoting an alleged plan that won't solve our problems but will short-sell the Americans' spirit of being really able to solve this problem through technological gains.

I heard some of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle today proposing what they call an energy plan which is to simply drill more holes in the ground. And I would suggest very strongly that that is a plan doomed for total and abject failure, which is something at $4 a gallon of gas and a war in the Middle East and global warming nipping on our heels we can't run the risk of failure.

And I'm just going to suggest what has been proposed is too little, too late, and too timid.

And the first two are obvious why they're too little and too late. We know that it's too little simply to drill a few more holes in the ground in the United States because we don't have the oil. Even if we drill in Mount Rushmore, Yellowstone National Park, and the Capitol Mall, we could drill in the south lawn of the White House, but we don't have the oil that can make any significant difference in the price of oil.

Oil is a fungible product that is sold on a worldwide market, and every single expert that has testified--and we're not talking Democrats or Republicans; we're talking to people who know the oil industry--and every single expert that we have talked to has told us even in the long term, because our dinosaurs somehow died under the Saudi Arabia soil, we don't have the oil to make a difference in the price. Simple economic fact.

The simple fact is we use 25 percent of the world's oil. The experts have told us, even if you drill in the south lawn of the White House, we've only got 3 to 3.2 percent of the world's oil supply. Because oil trades on a worldwide market, we can maximize and we won't be able to change the worldwide price of oil more than a couple of cents.

And I want to make sure people understand this. There's a bunch of hooey coming from across the other side of the aisle that you're going to get $2 a gallon of gasoline if we drill on the south lawn of the White House. It's a bunch of hooey.

Every single expert who has testified in the United States Congress for the last 2 years has told us that if you maximize drilling, if you ignore all of any environmental concerns we have, you will not change the price of oil more than a couple of pennies because it simply isn't enough to make a difference. The oil under Saudi Arabia is many, many, many fold the oil that we have no matter where we drill.

So telling Americans that we are going to be able to affect the price of oil by expanding drilling in the United States is simple flimflam, and it reminds me of that great movie with George W. Scott called ``The Flim-Flam Man.'' He said he identified himself as a master of back stabbing, cork screwing and dirty dealing. And I think, frankly, it is a flimflam to tell people that it's going to solve it. It's too little.

But it's too late because we shouldn't wait till 2030. The first oil that would flow from these new holes in the ground wouldn't flow until 2030. It is too late. It is too late for the Americans.

And it's too timid. Now, I believe Mr. Blumenauer talked about this a little bit, but we have really one significant thing we can do in the short-term, and that is to end this rampant speculation that the experts are telling us is driving up the price that is not a function of supply and demand. It's hard to explain these increases any other way but rampant speculation.

And tomorrow, I'll be joining Representative Bart Stupak, who's doing great work leading the House to a bill that will finally close the loopholes that have allowed these speculators to act in a nontransparent, sort of dark hole, of energy--of oil trading. And you know, they operate--and the one thing that was entirely appropriately named--It's called the Enron loophole. Man, that was the right name for that loophole, where these traders can do swaps, and we don't know about it.

So we need to close these loopholes. That can have a short-term impact this year where we don't have to wait 20 years for a resolution. So it's too little, too late.

But I just want to really focus on the part about being too timid. We need a bold, courageous, over-the-horizon, visionary energy plan that's fitting of the talents of the American people. Drilling holes in the ground is 140-year technology. It is old, mature technology. We do it quite well, and we've done it for a long time.

Now is the time to turn the page and add to our portfolio of energy sources a whole new suite of technological sources that can power our cars and our homes, and I want to mention two of them. Okay?

In the last 2 weeks, I've met with two people. One is a guy named Felix Cramer, who's a guy who essentially helped invent the plug-in hybrid car. You plug it in, you run it for 40-plus miles on electricity, and if you want to drive more, you use gasoline or ethanol. These are technologies that we need to strive on.

And next week, I meet some folks at the A123 battery company in Boston. These are the folks who are making the lithium ion batteries that will be able to drive your car ultimately 100 miles and 40 miles now without a charge.

We don't have to shackle ourselves to oil for the next 100 years. We've got to break our addiction to oil. We have the capacity to do this, but if we're timid, if we're pessimistic, if we're shortsighted, we will simply do what we've done for 140 years, which is drill holes in the ground.

And we have a policy, and I've introduced a bill called the New Apollo Energy Act which basically says that this country's going to go on a course of technological innovation, and this truly has the capability of breaking the chains of oil, and I know we're capable of doing that.

So I appreciate Mr. Blumenauer starting this discussion.

Mr. BLUMENAUER. I appreciate, Mr. Inslee, your continued advocacy, being on message, moving legislative initiatives, and helping educate the American public about the potential of the New Apollo Project, the potential for our economy, the potential for a new era.

I want to conclude because I guess we only have half an hour, so I've got a few minutes left. So I'm going to conclude by just running through what we didn't hear this evening. I want to be very, very focused on this because what we didn't hear was an honest explanation of what the problem is and where we're going to go. If for some reason we have a few more moments, I'll be happy to flip back to my friend, but let me just finish my thoughts here.

The notion that we are going to somehow surrender our energy future to the Big Oil companies, allow them to lease everything else, and have it their will to take some of our most precious, sensitive places and run roughshod over the will of the people in California or Florida or elsewhere, New Jersey, I mean, a whole host of places that would be affected by this and somehow get $2 a gallon gasoline is poppycock. And I think my good friend from Washington said hooey.

But you look at any independent, honest, objective expert, and they will say, you may be able to affect things 7 to 10 years from now a penny or two below what the price otherwise would be because we're caught up in a global initiative.

It is as phony as Senator McCain's proposal for a gas tax holiday which would only give the holiday to the Big Oil companies, and we'd rely on their magnificent generosity to trickle a little of that down. No indication that that would happen.

We didn't hear one word about global warming, which even Senator McCain and Senator Obama agree on and we are going to be dealing with a carbon-constrained economy.

Not one word about conservation. We can't afford to continue to waste more oil than any country in the world.

We heard an attack on cap-and-trade, which is where the United States and every other developed economy is going. We're going to have a carbon-constrained economy. We're not going to enable people to continue to pollute the environment with massive amounts of carbon, slowly cook the planet, raise sea levels and temperatures with extreme weather. That's not going to happen. The American public understands that. The evangelical community, the environmental community, organized labor and business are moving in this direction.

It was George Bush the first's decision to issue many of these protections via executive order, and George Bush the second--if he had been serious about this, would have done it years ago. He would have changed his father's decision if he was serious about it before he was running in Florida and California. He hasn't.

It will take 7 to 10 years for this to get to market. We will, as Mr. Inslee has mentioned, we will

deal with closing the Enron loophole and squeezing the speculators.

We need to use what we have now, the use-it-or-lose-it. Sixty-eight million acres are now open to the large oil companies right now, an area the size of Georgia and Illinois combined. We're going to advance legislation that says they we're going to use that before we mortgage the rest of our energy future for them, or we'll give it to somebody who will.

I'm amazed that my friends continue to come to the floor and attack bicycles. I find that somewhat amusing because I've been working for a dozen years on bike partisanship. I know there are many Members on the Republican side of the aisle that don't believe the rhetoric of their extreme Members and their leadership who belittle the role that new technologies can play or the application of old technologies.

You know, today, if you go down to the G2 entrance in the Rayburn building, you can't find a place to park a bike. Members and staff are coming here in droves. At $4 or $5 a gallon, you bet it makes sense. Making an opportunity for our children to walk or bike to school safely, you bet it makes sense. Would we be talking about morbidly obese, 300-pound sixth graders if more kids could do that? Yet somehow the Republican leadership has chosen to try and belittle the most effective form of urban transportation ever designed and, in fact, is supported by many of the Republicans themselves.

At the Republican convention and the Democratic convention, Mr. Speaker, we're going to have 1,000 bicycles, and you watch these people who try and belittle cycling. You watch delegates line up to use it, to travel around Minneapolis and Denver, to actually see the community at 10 miles an hour, to get through security and parking hassles, to be able to get a little exercise and save some energy.

But that is symptomatic of their approach to try and score political points, to make fun of things that make a difference, and ultimately, it's why their approach is doomed to fail.

Democrats, since we assumed control, have been working on initiatives to give the American consumer more choices, to protect the environment, to encourage conservation, to give them more fuel-efficient cars, to give them mass transit, to give people in rural and small town America and our urban centers more opportunities about how they move, where they live, to get more out of the energy that we've got and develop new technologies that are more sustainable, that will lead to the revitalization not just of the environment but to our economy.

Mr. INSLEE. Will the gentleman yield for a minute?

Mr. BLUMENAUER. I would be happy to yield to the gentleman.

Mr. INSLEE. I always appreciate Mr. Blumenauer's question of isn't it kind of funny to watch people stuck in traffic, driving to the gym to ride the stationary bicycle, and I always kind of appreciate that irony.

I want to point out in talking about this theme of why we need a bold energy plan rather than a timid one, I want to point out three e-mails I've got in the last 24 hours that I think depict the future that we optimists see rather than pessimists who just want to remain addicted to oil.

One was an e-mail I got about 4 hours ago from the United States Climate Change Science Program. This is a program in the George Bush administration. They just released their report about what the United States is going to face due to global warming. We're not talking about Kenya or India. We're talking about the United States.

And today at 1:30, they released their report. This is the official scientific assessment of the administration of George Bush. And they concluded, Among the major findings reported in this assessment are that droughts, heavy downpours, excessive heat, and intense hurricanes are likely to be become more commonplace as humans continue to increase the atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases. The report is based on scientific evidence that a warming world will be accompanied by changes in the intensity, duration, frequency, and geographic extent of weather and climate extremes.

That is the Bush administration's own people recognizing that the science says that we are in some dire consequences.

In talking to my friends here tonight, who have been stacking sandbags in Iowa, in the second 500-year flood in about 14 years, I think we can see something's happening. I'm not saying this flood is specifically caused by global warming, but what we do know is these kind of incidents are going to become more frequent over time.

Now, what is the response from this side of the aisle from that scientific information?

You know, this side of the aisle, they trust science. They believe in science because they use cell phones, which are based on quantum mechanics. And they fly on Boeing airplanes, which are based on advanced physics. But when it comes to the science of global warming, what is their response? Their response is, let's just drill more oil and use more oil and pollute more global warming gases. That is a nonstarter of a strategy that can save the planet from the problems that the George Bush administration scientific assessment this afternoon says we're in for. That is too timid.

Now, the second e-mail I got, I got it about 35 minutes ago, it was from the Nano Solar Company in Palo Alto, California. The Nano Solar Company is a thin cell photovoltaic company. And thin cells are a new type of photovoltaic. It's a solar cell that creates electricity just from sunlight. And it's thin cell, where you just spray this material on a plastic coating and boom, you've got yourself a solar cell. It's much cheaper to make than a silicon-based photovoltaic cell. Today they announced that they were the first company in the world to have one gigawatt of manufacturing capacity for photovoltaics, which can dramatically decrease the cost of production of photovoltaics.

Now, we have a vision on this side of the aisle to help those companies expand. And if they do, we're going to eventually be able to break this addiction to oil. And that company is part of a vision where we use solar power, wind power, enhanced geothermal power, potentially clean coal, potentially some other sources to produce electricity and run cars on electricity. That's a vision that's up to the innovative capability. But the answer from this side of the aisle is, no, no, don't help these new companies that are advancing these new technologies, just help the old companies that learned how to drill for oil 140 years ago in Pennsylvania. That is an old technology. It's a horse-and-buggy technology. It's worked really well. Gasoline is a great fuel, except for its global warming capacity.

The third e-mail I want to mention; yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from the Ausra Energy Company that announced that they are opening their first solar thermal plant--in California, I believe--in about 2 or 3 weeks. Now, solar thermal energy is where you use mirrors to concentrate the sun's light; you generate heat; you heat water or oil; and you generate steam power based electricity. It has a potential to be energy just as cheap as coal-fired electricity in the next decade.

These people are for real. They have multiple million dollars of capital funding; they have now signed contracts in Florida and California to provide electricity for almost 400,000 homes. These are the breakthrough projects that we need to foster rather than going back to just the old technology.

And my concern about what my friends across the aisle are proposing is that we are proposing to really chain ourselves to the past here while the rest of the world is moving ahead. You know, we're in a race right now. We were in a space race in the sixties, and we won because we had leadership from John F. Kennedy who said, let's beat the Russians, let's go to the moon in 10 years. Now we need some leadership from this building to say, let's beat the Germans in solar cell technology, let's beat the Danes in wind turbine technology. Let's be the company that gets the Nano Solars and the Ausras of the world to start selling products to China.

And I'll tell you another place we can get gasoline from, from the Sapphire Energy Company. It's a company in Washington and California that just raised about $50 million. And they have an algae-based material that can make, not ethanol, not biodiesel, but gasoline, gasoline just like you put in your tank today. Now, there's a company that could use a step forward so that, instead of having to drill in these environmentally sensitive areas, we can produce our own fuel without competing with food crops. And that product can be mass produced probably sooner than we can get major league drilling going in offshore areas.

Now, that is not a guarantee, it is not a guarantee. None of these new technologies are lead pipe cinches. But they have very good prospects of success, they have attracted very significant private capital, and we know that they have a chance to do what we need, domestically produce clean energy that doesn't destroy the planet through climate change.

And so we have adopted a position of assisting these breakthrough technologies, allowing drilling to continue in the United States where it has been leased. And there are 68 million acres today of public land owned by the United States Federal Government that has been leased to the oil and gas companies where they are fully capable of drilling wells, and they have not done so. In fact, there has been a lot of talk about the Arctic. Five out of the six oil companies that are drilling oil in any major league way internationally have no interest in the Arctic because it's too expensive to get to. We haven't even talked about cost associated with these things.

So we believe this country is ready for a bold new vision, and we're ready to tackle that. And that's why my new Apollo energy project, the Bart Stupak bill, that will bring these speculators into the bright light of regulation so they don't do to us what Enron did to Washington and Oregon and California, that's a vision for this country, and we're ready to rock and roll on it. We're looking forward to a new President so we can get on with that job.

I yield to Mr. Blumenauer.

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Thank you. And I appreciate your pulling these pieces together, Congressman Inslee. I think you hit the nail on the head.

I am hopeful that throughout all of this, that we can conduct this debate from this point forward by being honest with the American public. There is no one single cause for what we've seen happen with oil prices--speculation, world market, increased demand, hiccup here, there are a whole host of things that we see. Likewise, there is no one single solution. We need a comprehensive array.

We do want to restrain speculation, whether it's $1 a barrel or $50 a barrel. It's unfair to the American consumer. It's unfair to the industries and small business people, and homeowners that rely on fairly priced petroleum products.

We need to encourage using the energy leases that are out there right now before we consider surrendering our energy future by turning over even more leases. Use the 68 million acres that are available now.

We have to stop wasting more oil than anybody else on the planet. Three times I've had an amendment that has passed in our legislation to close the Hummer loophole, but with our tax code, we're still subsidizing, with your tax dollars, the purchase of the largest, most fuel-inefficient, expensive vehicles, costing the Treasury hundreds of millions of dollars and working against ourselves. We need to change that; something that we have been unable to do with the current configuration, but it has passed the House.

We need to develop new energy sources, not just drain petroleum dry. But we need to be serious about solar, wind, tidal. We need to be serious about new technologies, as you point forward. We need to work on how the land use system is in place. In too much of America it's illegal for somebody who works in a drugstore to live in an apartment above that drugstore. We artificially separate uses.

We have too many long commutes. Too many people have to burn a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk. We need to have a more rational and thoughtful approach to a land use system that will make transportation work better.

And last, but not least, we need more transportation choices for Americans, whether it's Amtrak revitalized, streetcars, buses, light rail, heavy rail--God forbid bicycles and pedestrian. They're all part of a mix. And every American ought to have a wider range of choice, and the Federal Government ought to be working to do this.

Mr. Inslee, I appreciate your joining me this evening. I appreciate your analysis and your leadership. And if you have any concluding thoughts, I would turn to you at this point before yielding back.

Mr. INSLEE. My only point is that I think it was May 25, 1961, John F. Kennedy stood right there and said we're going to go to the moon. And what we heard today from some of my colleagues across the aisle is, let's just go to Cleveland, that will be enough.

Just being addicted to oil is beneath the bold vision that Americans are asking for right now. And we really have only one hope of significantly reducing gas prices over the long term, and that is to develop sources that are an alternative to oil and gas. We need to no longer be slaves to the oil companies and addicted to the needle of the gas pump. We need to be the masters, where we decide whether we're going to use electricity in our cars or algae-based biofuels that a little algae particle produced, or a combination or those things, or public transportation, as you so radically suggested, or a bicycle, and maybe even walk on occasion, if our minds were into that.

When we have these choices, Americans will be freed from this oil addiction. And until we have those choices, we will not. We stand for giving America those choices. The other side stands for continued addiction for the next several centuries. We'll let the people decide.

Thanks for having this discussion.

Mr. BLUMENAUER. Well said.


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