"Thank you, Dominique, for that kind introduction. I am impressed by all of the new and innovative work that Nissan is doing in my home state of Arizona and I hope that Nissan will continue these important public-private partnerships that are so important to furthering innovation in all sectors of our society. I would also like to thank the Reform Institute for inviting me here today to speak about America's energy future.
Any discussion of our energy future must begin with energy security, because it concerns America's most fundamental interests, and above all, the safety of our citizens from the violence of the world. All the tact of diplomacy cannot conceal a blunt reality. The U.S.-led demand for oil enriches some of our worst enemies. And in the Middle East, Venezuela, and elsewhere, these regimes know how to use the power of that wealth.
In the case of Iran, despite our own sanctions, they use their oil wealth to pursue nuclear weapons. They use it to threaten Israel and other democracies. Elsewhere, oil wealth allows undemocratic governments to control their own people - to crush dissent and to subjugate women. They use it to finance terrorists around the world and criminal syndicates in our own hemisphere.
These are some of the most stagnant and oppressive societies on Earth, held back by oil-rich elites who would not last long if their own people had a choice in the matter. From these elites, we get the oil that fuels our productive economy. From us, they get the money that preserves their unjust power. Moreover, by relying upon oil from the Middle East, we not only provide wealth to the sponsors of terror - we provide high-value targets to the terrorists themselves. Across the world are pipelines, refineries, transit routes, and terminals for the oil we rely on. And, Al Qaeda terrorists know where they are.
When oil prices approached $140 a barrel, the need to shift away from our reliance on dangerous suppliers of petroleum became urgent. While oil prices have decreased, the urgency should not. I promise you that prices will rise again as the global economy recovers and Americans continue to demand fuel for their cars and oil and gas for electricity generation. Even one extra penny at the pump costs our America's drivers a total of one billion dollars more in a single year. And there are other costs to our economy as well, like the effect of oil imports on our trade deficit. Petroleum-related imports came to $331 billion dollars in 2007, and the bill keeps rising. We are actually borrowing from foreign lenders to buy oil from foreign producers. Over time, in interest payments, we have lost trillions of dollars that could have been better invested in American enterprises.
Even if these other interests were not in the balance, America would still need to follow the straightest path to energy security, because of a threat literally gathering around the Earth itself. When Americans first started to talk about an "energy crisis," we didn't fully understand how fossil fuel emissions retain heat within the atmosphere. We didn't know that over time these greenhouse gasses could warm the planet. We didn't know they could melt glaciers and ice sheets, or raise the waters and alter the balance that sustains life. Good stewardship, prudence, and simple common sense demand that we act to meet this challenge, act quickly, responsibly, and together.
I believe that the issue of global warming is one of the most fundamental crises facing the world today. Every day we see evidence of changing weather patterns and melting arctic ice. How much longer can we sit by and not act to help counter these devastating effects? Along with Joe Lieberman, I have worked for years toward bipartisan legislation that addresses this pressing global challenge. Unfortunately, the budget the President recently put forward undermines our ability to work together in a bipartisan fashion on this important international crisis.
The President and his Administration have risked our country's economic future with a tax, borrow, and spend policy of historic proportions. At the center is an irresponsible, ill-conceived, and distorted version of a cap and trade system that the President's budget relies upon to raise nearly $650 billion dollars of revenues from a climate credits auction. The President's proposal of auctioning one hundred percent of the carbon credits is bad economic policy that would cost businesses billions of dollars and allow for little to no transition into a low carbon system.
Let me be clear, I am a supporter of a strong cap and trade system, but I will not and cannot align myself with a giant government slush fund that will further burden our businesses and consumers. At this time of economic hardship, it is beyond irresponsible to further raise costs of operation of our country's businesses.
I still believe that it is the time to address this critical domestic and international issue. But my vision for a cap and trade system is as a mechanism to lower greenhouse gases in our atmosphere, NOT as a revenue generator for the federal government. We must design a program that balances the needs of our environment with the needs of our economy, carefully balancing incentives with informed restrictions. It will take a combination of auctioning and allocating carbon credits - giving enough credits away to accommodate the transition costs and allow businesses to stay open, and prevent drastic increases in utility rates for costumers. In doing so, it will be important to study what happened in Europe and learn from their mistakes. We must have a real understanding of how many credits are needed to truly represent the U.S. emissions and provide them in a way that doesn't result in completely devaluing the market.
We also must provide for a limited number of credits to be auctioned off to help fund the program. Let me be clear here, the money generated from this limited auction must be used to directly fund a cap and trade system and programs associated with that system. Like I said before, it cannot and should not be used for a federal slush fund to pay for health care reform or other social programs that fit with this Administration's agenda.
Finally, it is important for the Unites States to continue to play the role of global leader and help developing countries to make verifiable reductions in CO2 emissions. Over the coming decades, China, India and the other developing nations will only continue to increase their green house gas emissions but further restrictions on our and their economies is not the answer to addressing this environmental concern.
Recently, Secretary Chu stated that tariffs and trade barriers could be used as "weapons" to force countries like China and India to cut their green house gas emissions. Once more, the Administration makes mistakes on both economic and environmental grounds. In a time of global economic crisis, we need an Administration with a genuine spine to stand up to protectionism. It is even more damaging to extend protectionist policy to climate change. Air quality does not understand international boundaries and it is to the advantage of the United States for developing countries to make these reductions, but we should extend a helping hand, not an iron fist, to encourage these types of fundamental changes in their developing economies.
China is building new coal fire power plants every day. Why not help them to employ American invented carbon capture and storage technologies to make these plants cleaner and more efficient?
The U.S. has always led the world in innovation. Innovation will be the ultimate source of solutions to global warming. One reason to support cap and trade is that it is the most efficient way to harness economy-wide incentives for innovation and spur the development of next-generation technologies. Other approaches, especially the incipient bureaucratic regulation of carbon by the EPA, will raise costs and economic damage without leading to new technologies. We should employ the right policies to support our great American potential to develop the newest and most efficient clean energy technologies. And we should export them to the countries that need them the most, not raise damaging barriers to trade.
We need to start making decisions in Washington based on facts, not pure, partisan politics that has lead us down a misguided path toward instability and uncertainty in our energy markets. We need to make choices based on sound science, national security and a clear vision of our economic future. This is why I continue to be baffled by the rhetoric coming out of this Administration in relation to our nuclear power industry and the future of nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain.
I believe that nuclear power is at the heart of the future of clean energy in the United States. Countries all over the world have already realized that nuclear power can be used in a secure, efficient way to produce abundant amounts of clean energy, yet the United States has not begun construction on a new nuclear reactor in over 30 years. While many of the reactors throughout the country have managed to keep up with increasing demand in our energy sector through increased efficiency, we have maximized this potential and we must begin construction of new facilities immediately throughout this country.
Nuclear power currently provides 20 percent of this nation's power, compared with over 70 percent in France. In order to replace the power generated by the Palo Verde nuclear power plant in my home state of Arizona, we would need to construct 125 square miles of solar panels or over 530 square miles of wind generators. In fact, the Department of Energy recently reported that they believe that solar power will only make up 5 percent of our total energy generation needs by 2050, with wind able to meet up to 20 percent of our needs by 2030. Alternative energy will play an important role in our energy future but to commit ourselves to a narrow course of pursuing only a limited number of green technologies, while refusing to recognize the important role of nuclear power, clean coal and other forms of green energy, will be to limit our own economic and environmental progress.
For the first time since the 1970s, companies are beginning to make investments in new nuclear infrastructure. We could be breaking ground on a new reactor in South Carolina as early as next year. However, cumbersome licensing processes and long wait times for reactor components continue to slow the progress for new reactor construction. I have been told that we can build up to 45 new reactors on current nuclear power sites, but I wonder if industry will pursue these new projects when the Administration continues to refuse to deal with the larger question looming over the nuclear power industry - waste storage.
In a March hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, Secretary Chu stated clearly that he and President Obama no longer considered Yucca Mountain a viable option for storing spent nuclear fuel. During the Presidential campaign, then-candidate Obama stated that his Administration would be guided by science, not politics, yet science has shown time and time again that Yucca Mountain is not only a safe location for spent nuclear fuel, but the best one we have available to us. By delaying putting waste in Yucca Mountain, we continue to store spent fuel at 140 different locations throughout the country. Apparently, this Administration believes that having nuclear waste stored at 140 sites of varying security and circumstances is preferable to having one secure, centralized location where the waste could be closely controlled and monitored.
At this same hearing, I asked Secretary Chu about the Administration's position in regard to reprocessing of spent nuclear fuel. The Secretary responded that he believed that reprocessing needed "further study." Further study? Someone needs to let the French, the British and the Japanese know that because reprocessing is currently taking place in all of those countries. In fact, just two weeks ago, I was in Japan visiting a new reprocessing facility that should be capable of reprocessing all of Japan's spent nuclear fuel. At that time, they also told us they had plans to build 15 new nuclear reactors in the next 12 years. And what has the U.S. been doing while Japan has been making these plans? We sit idly by, stacking our spent fuel in pools that are becoming increasingly full and dry storage facilities that continue to grow and grow.
Reprocessing of our spent nuclear fuel will allow us to reduce the amount of waste in need of storage and allow us to use nuclear fuel in a more efficient manner. Currently, we only extract 10 percent of the energy potential from nuclear fuel - by reprocessing this "waste" we could extract two to three times that energy potential. By continuing this Carter-era policy of refusing to reprocess our spent nuclear fuel we are crippling our own energy potential and limiting our own use of this important green energy technology.
The great issue of our energy future encompasses many of the most-pressing problems that confront our nation. And it demands of us that we shake off old ways, negotiate new hazards, and make hard choices long deferred. America is going to meet this great challenge with action. At this moment, some of the best minds in our country are also at work discovering or perfecting alternative technologies. They are not tilting at windmills - they're building them. They are capturing the boundless powers of the sun, the tides, the mighty rivers, and the warmth of the Earth itself. We must leave every option on the table, leave no resources unexplored and no technology lacking innovation.
The strategy here is to produce more, use less, and invent new ways of doing both. And inventing new ways is what we Americans do best. It is time for us to put partisanship behind us in favor of practical, long term solutions to our nation's energy and environmental needs. We, as Americans, pride ourselves on our ability to meet difficult and ever changing challenges. I have faith in our country and our citizens to meet the fundamental challenges that face us here today and rise to the occasion with strong spirit and innovation.