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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2009 - Motion to Proceed

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2009--MOTION TO PROCEED--Continued -- (Senate - August 01, 2008)

BREAK IN TRANSCRIPT

MISSED ENERGY OPPORTUNITIES

Ms. CANTWELL. Mr. President, I rise today to put some facts on the table about the high cost of energy. I know many of my colleagues have left town, but some are still here. And even though today is August 1, I doubt that it is the last we are going to hear on this debate. I expect that we will hear about it all during August.

I come to the floor this afternoon to just put a few last remarks into the Record about what I think this debate has been about and what I think it will be about when we return. I know some of my colleagues have put out statements today about what they think we should do in moving forward. I think it is very important to address the issue of the high cost of energy and to put forth a realistic plan for our country to move forward.

Many times this week we heard the slogan: Find more and use less. It reminds me of the slogans we hear on oil company commercials who spend hundreds of millions of dollars saying things such as ``beyond petroleum,'' and ``look at the future we are planning.'' They are spending all of that money trying to convince us they have a plan, when in reality they are keeping us addicted to oil.

Mr. President, now is not the time to worry about big oil. They just posted astronomical second quarter profits. ExxonMobil alone made about $130 million a day--not bad for a hard day's work impacting consumers. In fact, since the Bush Administration came into office, oil industry profits have totaled $641 billion. And as this chart shows every year's profit was greater than the last.

The complexity of this issue is that many colleagues really think that drilling more is going to solve our nation's energy crisis. But the clear facts is it is not going to; drilling more will just continue to add to the profits of these companies at a time when we should be investing in clean energy solutions.

So now is not the time to give the American people the false hope that drilling is going to have any effect on oil prices or provide any drop of relief at the pump. Now is not the time to play politics and to try to continue to play the blame game.

Instead now is the time to realize that our economy can't take much more of this. We simply have to get off of oil. It is time, after 8 years of an administration with a dead-end oil policy, that we understand the long-term cost of our addiction to oil and how it is strangling our economy and our vitality. Because unless we change course, and change course soon, we soon will be sending $1 trillion abroad to cover our foreign oil addiction. No amount of drilling--no amount--in the United States will change that fact.

Just a few years ago I would come to the floor and talk about how we were 50-percent dependent, heading toward 60-percent dependent on foreign oil. Now we are talking about being 70-percent dependent and even more unless we change course.

I think it is safe to say that the last 8 years of this administration has done great damage to the continuation of our addiction to foreign oil. We have tried their approach. It doesn't work. So what we need to do today is move ahead.

We need to admit the United States consumes one-quarter of the world's oil but only has less than 2 percent of the world's oil reserves. We will never, ever be able to affect the world oil price. Even if we drilled in every corner of God's creation in the United States, we would not be able to affect the world price of oil.

Americans can do the math. They know we need to be aggressively putting new policies into place that will make us a 21st century leader in new energy solutions. That is what we should be doing in the Senate as well.

Unfortunately, it seems as though many of my colleagues aren't doing this simple math. Instead, they are trying to exploit the current crisis and convince us that we should continue this oil addiction. That the answer is to give big oil one of their top legislative priorities--one they have wished for for several decades breaking the quarter-century-old moratorium on drilling off of America's pristine coast.

Pro-drilling advocates and certainly the President of the United States seem perfectly comfortable perpetrating what I think is a cruel hoax on the American people. They are willing to imply, to insinuate, and to outright pretend that drilling off our coastlines will help provide some relief at the pump. They are willing to pretend that drilling will somehow lessen our dangerous dependence on foreign oil.

Though my colleagues on the other side of the aisle do not like to admit this, the American people can listen to experts at the Department of Energy who say:

Access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern Gulf Coast regions would not have a significant impact on domestic crude oil and natural gas production or prices before 2030.

We heard that 2030 is the magic year by which drilling in the Outer Continental Shelf would produce supply. But our own Energy Information Administration said that access to the Pacific, Atlantic, and eastern gulf coast regions would not have a significant impact on the price before 2030.

I know we had a lot of discussion about the psychological impact, but oil industry experts have testified before Congress that the notion of more drilling would have no psychological effect on world oil prices. That is from oil analysts who have written books about oil and covered it for many years.

But even in 22 years the offshore drilling scheme will not provide consumers relief. This is what the Energy Information Administration said:

Because oil prices are determined on the international market, any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant.

So the notion that somehow our drilling is going to help us relieve the price when we are such a small player on the world market is really a hoax. We are not going to be able to have any significant impact on the price.

Even if we drilled in every last corner of our great Nation it would not have any impact. We will never be able to drill our way out of the fact that our addiction to oil leaves critical aspects of our economy in the hands of OPEC.

We do not have 22 years to wait. We need to be aggressive in getting off oil and move ahead. I know many of my colleagues really think the drilling that has been talked about here will provide relief, and they assume that oil companies would invest the tens of billions of dollars it would take to drill up and down our coastlines. I guess we should ignore for the moment that these same oil companies are not even utilizing 83 percent of the leases they already have.

But the truth is that all the drilling will do, even post-2030, is lead to 1 percent of what the United States needs. That is right, if we go ahead and lift the moratorium on Outer Continental Shelf drilling and that process starts and we get to 2030, the United States will still need over 22 million barrels of oil a day. That is what our growth rate is expected to be under the status quo. Drilling in the 600-million-acre moratorium areas would only meet 1 percent of U.S. needs in 2030. All that money, all that risk of catastrophic spills, all the years of waiting, and that is the payoff--1 percent.

It is not good enough, and the American people need and deserve better solutions. That is what, when we return, we have to focus on.

There is a way out of this hole. It is definitely not drilling deeper, and it is time to say enough is enough and that we have to change course. My colleagues who use a chart that says ``Find More, Use Less'' on the other side of the aisle have the same empty slogan as those oil company ads that pretend they are the solution.

In fact, I think the solution my colleagues on the other side of the aisle ought to consider is: Find more and hold up less. They ought to hold up less legislation that allows us to move forward on a renewable energy strategy. Find more renewable energy and sources of power and production for the United States that can impact the price consumers are paying now, can impact what they are going to have to pay in 2009, and what they can do to get us moving off our oil addiction.

I say hold up less, because if we look at what has happened in the last year or two, we have had many proposals to move ahead off oil and on to clean energy sources that would have impacted the price at the pump. In fact, what this chart shows is the dozen times the other side of the aisle held up critical clean energy bills.

Starting in June of 2007, when we had a $28 billion clean energy package that we tried to pass. This bill would have eliminated some of the subsidies that oil companies got embedded in the Tax Code, because if we are at $126 or $140 a barrel of oil, it is pretty hard to argue that oil companies still need tax incentives.

One of the best parts of this legislative package created a consumer tax credit of up to $7,500 toward the purchase of plug-in electric vehicle. That was a provision I authored with Senator Hatch and Senator Obama. I know many of my colleagues on the other side of the aisle have talked a lot recently about the great promise of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles as a way to get us off our addiction to oil.

I talked about that 1 percent that was going to be supplied by drilling by 2030. If we invested in plug-in electric vehicles over roughly the same period of time, using electricity from our grid for fuel, we could have a 50-percent reduction in the amount of foreign oil we would need to import.

So the Republican plan by 2030 is to drill everywhere to reduce foreign oil needs by 200,000 barrels of oil per day. Our plan, which is investment in clean and alternative energy solutions, like the plug-in electric vehicles would reduce foreign oil imports by 6.5 million barrels of oil a day over the same time period.

The difference is unbelievable what we could have achieved if the Republicans would have stopped holding up these policies.

And my colleagues on the other side of the aisle are saying: We are not supporting plug-in electric vehicles unless you give us offshore drilling. They are saying we are holding hostage the great ideas and promise of the future of reducing our oil dependence unless you agree to continue the old, insane practices of giving incentives to oil companies with record profits to continue to provide the non-solutions to one of our nation's greatest problems.

It is time to get the solutions out of the hands of the oil companies and into the hands of the American public who want tools to reduce their oil consumption.

Literally, my colleagues voted no for cars that could get over 100 miles per gallon on the equivalent of $1 of gasoline. That is right, that is what a plug-in hybrid will get you. That analysis and study is there, that our nation's electricity grid today has enough spare capacity to power 70 percent of cars on the road today if they were electric hybrids. So instead of paying $3.99 for a gallon of gas, you would only pay about one dollar for the same amount of electricity.

This was just one realistic proposal the majority offered to move our nation to where we need to go. But every time they vote no on one of these proposals, we slow up the process. Voting no in June of 2007 was holding us up to going to that transition.

So I am glad other people on the other side of the aisle realize the promise of plug-in electrics, but they are not voting to help us break through and implement these solutions that could help us today and break the shackles of big oil.

As I mentioned, this was a bipartisan bill that Senators Hatch, Obama, and I introduced over a year ago. Our bill provides scalable credits that increase up to $15,000 for large vehicles. We had this big discussion about what cars Americans drive, how big, how small, safety issues, farm vehicles, big transportation vehicles. The great thing about plug-in hybrids and battery technology moving us forward is we can put those in any size vehicle. We are not going to be limited to a small car. The legislation would also provide assistance for automakers and parts manufacturers to retool their facilities to speed up the transition time.

So the Hatch-Cantwell-Obama bill would have been very progressive in getting solutions out into the marketplace that could have gotten us toward that goal we need to get to quickly.

Unfortunately, in December of 2007, there was another blocked attempt for us to change this policy. In December of last year, the majority of Senate Republicans blocked what would have created a renewable electricity standard. That is something even President Bush, when he was Governor of Texas, supported and today Texas is the nation's largest wind energy producer for our country. But Republican obstructionism cost us over 90,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity by 2020. That is the equivalent of 135 new coal-fired powerplants.

If they had not blocked this legislation in December of last year, we could have been on our way in 2020 to reducing the amount of coal-fired powerplants that we would have had in our country and getting on to renewable wind energy. The billions of dollars in clean energy investment, tens of thousands of jobs could be making an incredible positive impact, more so than any drilling offshore could ever be.

Then, just a few days later, there was another blocked attempt to move toward a clean energy transition when Republicans blocked a smaller clean energy tax incentive package that also would have ended subsidies to the big oil companies that have made these record profits. Even this scaled-back approach was too much for big oil, and they basically made their voice heard on Capitol Hill. Big oil refused to give up what was $13 billion in unwarranted tax breaks over 10 years, despite hundreds of billions in profits over the last 8 years.

Mr. President, the American people should know that Senators that voted against that bill voted against solar power, against wind power, against making homes and our commercial buildings more efficient. Against incentives for homeowners to lower their home heating and cooling bills and against making the electricity grid smarter, less prone to blackouts, and against plug-in vehicles.

Last February, there was another successful effort to block $6 billion of clean energy tax incentives on the stimulus bill. This time we gave up and said: You know what, forget the oil company subsidies, we would like to get rid of them, but you don't want to get rid of them, so let's put this as part of the stimulus package and let's stimulate our economy by moving forward. The stimulus bill reported by the Finance Committee had $6 billion in clean energy incentives that would have provided a short-term extension of expiring tax credits and help us stimulate the clean energy economy instead of having it bleed a slow death.

But we failed to pass that legislation. It would have helped us with the creation of 100,000 green-collar jobs and $20 billion in energy investment over the next year. If $20 billion was not stimulus and 100,000 green energy jobs, I don't know what was. Yet that was another big hold on our ability to move forward.

The bottom line is, we cannot keep up this slogan of saying: Find more, use less. We need to find more clean energy and hold up less legislation that will let us get there. Quit holding hostage clean energy legislation that is the truer predictor of domestic energy production, of if we are going to continue to be hostage to foreign oil, of if we are going to make progress of moving the United States forward. But again our colleagues held us up on moving to that legislation.

In fact, it was interesting that during the time of this vote, some of my colleagues were actually out campaigning at a solar plant. The CEO at the solar plant during that debate said:

The only question before us today is if the Senate, which is debating an economic stimulus bill at this very moment, understands green and can be green. Federal tax credits for solar energy are about to expire which will send the growing solar energy into a tailspin, especially here in California. But the Senate can ensure we keep the economic engine moving forward and extend the solar tax credits as part of the economic stimulus bill.

We know what the result was. We didn't pass that legislation. And the blockage continued.

In June of this year, blocking continued on a tri-partisan bill on the Senate floor. That is right, a climate change bill authored by an Independent, Republican, and a Democrat that would have had a low carbon fuel standard in it that would have saved an estimated 5 million barrels of oil per day by 2020. That is equal to nearly 85 percent of our daily oil imports from OPEC. Another missed opportunity, because that legislation didn't pass.

On June 10, we had another opportunity to try to pass clean energy legislation that would have helped us in reducing our critical energy needs. There were hundreds of businesses that were up here on the Hill asking for us to pass this legislation, telling us that new job creation and reduction of fuel costs depended on it, and yet, again, we had a blockage of this legislation. And it seemed, in fact, that many people cared more about the hedge fund managers' ability to use offshore accounts to avoid paying taxes than they did whether we were going to solve this energy problem by making an investment in new energy. So again we had a blocked vote that prohibited us from taking action and taking our country in a new direction.

That same day we tried a second vote and again were blocked in a comprehensive effort to get oil companies to either reinvest a portion of their astronomical profits into these needed areas of infrastructure or pay the tax so we could help clean energy solutions. And you guessed it, it was also blocked and held up.

About 6 weeks ago, on June 17, there was another blocked attempt when we tried to come up with a resolution to the long overdue extensions of clean energy tax incentives. Again, a strict party-line discipline maintained a filibuster, and companies across America started to lose hope that we were going to keep this investment cycle.

The problem is, without the tax incentives every year, where we have failed to produce a coherent policy on clean energy, we have seen astronomical drops in investment. As this chart of wind energy investment shows there was a 73-percent drop in 2001 to 2002, and a 77-percent drop from 2003 to 2004, the two times Congress allowed the Production Tax Credit to expire. And this is where we have gotten in 2007--this level of investment in wind energy resources. Yet now it is collapsing right in front of us because certain Senators would not pass legislation to make continued investments and continued predictable policy that the clean energy industry can use to put up new power plants.

In fact, around this time I got a letter from a company that I think illustrates the mistake we made. It came from a solar company named Abengoa and the Arizona Public Service, a local utility company. They told me that the Senate's failure to pass clean energy tax incentives was going to lead to the cancellation of a 280-megawatt concentrating solar plant near Phoenix. That is a $1 billion investment down the drain, and 2,000 construction jobs that will not happen, as well as 80 full-time jobs lost that would have run the plant.

So we tried many times, but they continued blocking these critical bills. The filibustering just this week just further illustrates this issue.

It is frustrating because we have even heard from those who have been in the oil industry such as T. Boone Pickens and others who say that unless we aggressively act to reduce our dependence on oil and get off of foreign petroleum, we could see, as Mr. Pickens told us at one of our Senate hearings last week, $300-a-barrel oil.

I don't think any of my colleagues want to see that. So I hope my colleagues go home and understand that our future lies in providing opportunities to find more renewable production, not drilling hoaxes. I hope they will quit holding clean energy hostage for the oil company executives; quit holding up the good legislation that could move our country forward.

I hope my colleagues will come back to the Senate in September with the notion in mind that reducing by 50 percent our dependence on foreign oil by accelerating the transition to plug-in electric vehicles should be our goal. That they will realize that holding up good legislation hostage for the 1 percent--the 1 percent--we might get from our Outer Continental Shelf drilling is risking our country's future.

This is the time to make the transition, and I hope my colleagues will hear that and understand it is not time to keep perpetrating hoaxes backed by and focused on by the oil companies. Rather its time to stop the politics and get serious about implementing a plan that gets our country off our dependence on oil. So I hope when we get back in September the other side of the aisle will quit holding up these critical clean energy bills and work with us to move forward on a desperately needed new energy strategy for the United States that will provide real price relief for Americans.

I thank the Presiding Officer, and I yield the floor.


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