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Public Statements

Changing Our Energy Policy

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

CHANGING OUR ENERGY POLICY -- (House of Representatives - May 19, 2009)

The SPEAKER pro tempore. Under the Speaker's announced policy of January 6, 2009, the gentleman from Kentucky (Mr. Yarmuth) is recognized for 60 minutes as the designee of the majority leader.

Mr. YARMUTH. Mr. Speaker, it's been very interesting to have engaged in discussions over the last few months about changing our energy policy, and it's been particularly interesting listening to my colleagues on the other side talk about their vision of where this country goes or, rather, their lack of vision as to where this country will go in energy.

This debate began several years ago. It was very prominent during the Presidential campaign in 2008, and there began to emerge a very clear distinction about two very different visions about what we need to do in this country.

We heard last summer the mantra coming from the Republicans: ``Drill, baby, drill! Drill, baby, drill!'' That was, in essence, the sum and substance of the Republican Party's energy policy: continue to drill for oil, continue to emit carbon CO2 into the atmosphere, continue to avoid the tough choices about changing our goals in energy policy in this country, trying to achieve energy independence and, again, relying on the same technologies that we've used in this country for 100 years.

Fortunately, we elected a President who has a very different vision of where we go in energy, a very progressive vision of where we go in energy, a policy that he has proposed, that this Congress is proposing to enact, that will end our dependence on oil and carbon-based fuels, will set a new course to where we are actually using the great gifts of the natural world, such as wind and solar energy, creating the kinds of incentives for businesses to create new jobs and new industries, so that we can create a future that is not only clean but prosperous.

Now, what's interesting in listening to my colleagues from the other side, all very well-intentioned men and women, and I've listened to some over the last hour, is this constant emphasis on the cost of changing direction, the cost of cleaning the air, the cost of truly creating an alternative energy policy in this country. And I'm glad they do that because, as with any good thing, there is a cost to doing it, but what we would like to emphasize in pursuing a new direction is the cost of not acting and not pursuing that new direction.

What have we seen, for instance, in this country over the last decade? We've seen the average citizen's energy costs rise by well over $1,000 a year, and last summer alone, we saw gas prices at $4 a gallon, which certainly is an additional tax on every American citizen who drives a car or who powers anything.

As we project onward, we know that diminishing resources in carbon-based fuel, diminishing supplies of petroleum, the price of gas is going to continue to go up. The price of natural gas is going to rise. So the cost of pursuing the same old status quo is significant.

On the other hand, we can make an investment now. We can make an investment that will save us money, will continue to save us money toward infinity. We can actually harness the power of the sun, the power of the wind, hydroelectric power, geothermal power, all of the alternative sources which we know are available to us. If we can do that--and this bill that we are contemplating right now sets us in that direction, provides the type of incentives and stimulus that will get us to that era--then we will have an era in which we dramatically cut our energy costs. We will save trillions and trillions of dollars as we move forward.

I know just in my own district, I've gone to see some of the new techniques for building homes, for utilizing all of the LEED-certified processes that can cut a 3000-square-foot home's utility costs to under $100 a month. These are the potentials that are out there for us, and these are the potentials that this proposal that we are dealing with now and considering in Congress can bring to reality.

So this is a debate that's important for this country. In a very real sense, it represents the future of this country, and there are very real differences between the Democratic Caucus and the administration and our colleagues on the other side who again prefer to pursue a 20th-century energy policy, rather than a 21st-century energy policy.

So I'm joined here by someone who has great interest in this subject and many others, who is part of that class of 2006 which changed control of the Congress and set us in a new direction. I'm proud to introduce my good friend and colleague, Ron Klein from Florida.


Mr. YARMUTH. And I would also mention that this is about jobs. It's about jobs, jobs, jobs, because this is going to be one of the emerging industries of the 21st century. We know that. The American people know that. I mean, the polling on this topic is actually overwhelming. The high percentage, a majority of the American people understand that we need to go in a different direction in energy, that we need to make the investments, we need to stop global warming emissions. Seventy-seven percent of the voters, according to one recent poll, want us to act to reduce global warming emissions, CO2. They know that this is what we need to do.

And, you know, this relates to what my colleague has said so well. What we are proposing to do in this legislation, in health care legislation that we're also working on, in the Recovery Act legislation that we've enacted, we're making a bet on America. We're making a big bet on America.

And I know that sometimes we hear our colleagues on the other side say, Oh, gosh, nobody borrows money to make money. Well, no. That's exactly what you do. That's what virtually every corporation that's ever succeeded in this country has done. They've borrowed money and they've invested it in ways that enabled them to make enormous future profits. And that's what we're proposing to do here.

We're going to increase deficits in this country over the next few years in order to enact those policies. But we're making a bet that American ingenuity, American brilliance, will develop the type of advances that will not only pay back that deficit, will not only create millions of new jobs, will not only create an exploding new industry, but will also lead this country into a great era of prosperity and will make life better for everyone, because if we can cut a person's utility bills from $3,000 or $4,000 a year to $500 a year, that's essentially a tax cut, a substantial tax cut.

And I know they like to talk about raising taxes, raising taxes. But again, as I mentioned earlier, what is the cost of not doing something now? What is the cost of reverting to that 20th century economy when gas was $4 a gallon last summer, and where, you know, we know gas in Europe is $9 and $10 in some places. What would that do to the American economy if gasoline were $9 or $10 a gallon? It would come to a screeching halt literally and figuratively. And that's why the types of things we're proposing in this energy legislation are so critical, because we're making the big bet, the big bet that American ingenuity will succeed and we'll once again dominate the world and we'll once again lead the world into a much better era, an era of cleaner skies, cleaner water, and also one of great prosperity.

I'm willing to make that bet on America because America's never failed. And I think that's what is so exciting and inspirational about the administration and the White House and the leadership in this Congress, that they're willing to make the big bet that America will succeed.

I yield again to the gentleman from Florida.


Mr. YARMUTH. I'm glad the gentleman mentioned those types of innovations, because the Consumer Products Division of General Electric is based in my district, and I'm well aware of the incredible progress that's being made in energy-efficient appliances and in those light bulbs. And this isn't the General Electric Company, but another very large company in my district just went through their plant and replaced all of their bulbs with energy-saving bulbs. It cost them $80,000 to do it. Now, $80,000 is a pretty substantial sum to a business, but they made the calculation that $80,000 would be paid back many, many times over in savings as they went forward.

And this is going to happen in business after business, in institution after institution, colleges, schools, you name it, across the country will be making these changes because they recognize the savings.

General Electric has, as do other manufacturers--I'm obviously going to plug General Electric--has new appliances which actually are regulated so that they will actually go on. They're timed so that they will be--let's say a dishwasher or a clothing washer or dryer will actually go on during periods of the day when peak utility usage, when it's not peak utility usage, when there's actually low demand on utilities. And they think by doing this, by creating these types of very smart appliances, they call them smart appliances, that they will actually be able to save energy costs systemwide because they won't be draining the utilities at the peak usage hours.

So there are all sorts of very, very smart things going on, and the legislation that we're proposing and the government initiatives that we're trying to initiate will go a great distance in seeing that through.

One of the things that intrigued me today, and I'm very proud of not just President Obama but also the automobile manufacturers and the various State governments that were involved in this discussion, to raise the mileage standards for automobiles to 35 miles a gallon by 2016, which is far faster than was provided for in legislation we passed in 2007.

But what's fascinating to me about this, and I think the gentleman would agree, that technology is going to outstrip even these standards that we're setting. I mean, there's a Ford Fusion right now, 41 miles a gallon in the city, a Ford Fusion hybrid. There are going to be electric cars that are coming out within the next year or two that will essentially get far more mileage than the prescription in this agreement that was reached.

So that's just a measure, one more measure of how successful, how innovative our economy can be when given a challenge. And all we're trying to do in this legislation that we're proposing now is to kind of put the challenge out there with the right kind of incentives, with the right kind of government push and funding and let the American spirit and American ingenuity have its way. And I know that this is going to be--again, this is going to be a phenomenal job creator and an economic engine for America as we move forward.

And I'll yield to the gentleman again.


Mr. YARMUTH. Exactly. And millions of new jobs and essentially a reduction in everyone's utility costs that will amount to a substantial tax cut. So, in my view, and I think the view of most Americans, this is a win-win-win-win-win.

Before we yield to another colleague, I'd just like to go through some of these other poll numbers to show where the American people are, because sometimes we sit in this Chamber--and we have equal time with the minority party so we have equal minutes. Sometimes you might get the impression that there's an equal number of people who agree with that position, an equal number of people who agree with our position.

But this is a poll actually done by a combination of Democratic and Republican pollsters and also by the Pew Research Group. Seventy-four percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Democrats believe jobs that reduce our dependence on foreign oil are very important for helping the economy over the next 5 to 10 years.

Sixty-three percent of Republicans, 70 percent of Independents, and 37 percent of Democrats believe jobs that are improving energy efficiency are very important to helping the economy over the next 5 to 10 years.

Fifty-nine percent of voters believe efforts to tackle global warming will help create jobs. We heard from the other side earlier this afternoon that, Oh, gosh, efforts to reduce global warming emissions are going to kill jobs--millions and millions of jobs--and result in a huge tax increase. Most Americans don't agree with that. Most Americans agree this is going to be a benefit for the economy.

Seventy-seven percent of voters favor action to reduce global warming emissions. Fifty percent of voters say they would view their Member of Congress more favorably if they support a comprehensive plan to create clean energy jobs and fight global warming. Only 22 percent say they would view their Member of Congress less favorably.

So it's pretty clear from these numbers and it's pretty clear from the people I talk to that the American people are strongly in favor of our taking dramatic action to set our country on a new path where energy is concerned toward a cleaner energy future, a more affordable energy future, toward an independent energy future. And I think that the moves we are making in this Congress will take us in that direction. I'm very proud that we're doing that.

I yield to the gentleman from Florida.


Mr. YARMUTH. I thank the gentleman. He makes a very important point, and that is that you started in this way, that we are at a critical juncture in our Nation's history and the history of the world. We, for once, at least in my memory, are starting to look at the long-term needs of this country and this world.

We don't do that very well in this country. It's always we look to tomorrow, we look maybe to next year, but we don't look at the next generation and the generation past that. And in the debate we will have in coming weeks on energy and later in the year on health care, we will hear, again, this very distinct difference in opinion.

I heard Members this morning and I heard the minority leader on Sunday on television talking about health care, saying the cost of reforming health care is so great, it's going to cost billions and billions of dollars, which we know. We don't know exactly how much it's going to cost to do that, but we know pretty certainly what the cost of not acting is, because the projections just in Medicare alone are that we're facing something like a $70 trillion projected deficit in additional deficit in Medicare over the next 50 years.

So we don't have the option of not acting. We don't have that option. Yes, we are going to spend some money in the next few years. But, again, if we don't, we face a certain dismal future. If we act now, we have a chance of turning this country in the right direction and creating a very prosperous and bright future for our country.

Now I'd like to yield to another member of the class of 2006, a good friend and colleague from Indiana, Mr. Donnelly.


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