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SBIR/STTR Reauthorization Act of 2011 -- Continued

Floor Speech

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Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Ms. CANTWELL. I thank my colleague from California, who is the chair of the committee, for working so hard on this important amendment to try to articulate and help colleagues understand what is the basis of it.

I too was surprised to learn that the McConnell-Inhofe amendment would overturn what has been the hard-won future gains in fuel economy we passed overwhelmingly on a bipartisan basis just a few years ago. I don't get it, EPA's clean car standards through 2016 will save so much gasoline that car buyers will actually save as much as $3,000 over the life of the car. That is because of the hard work we have done in the Senate on a bipartisan basis.

I know our colleagues from both sides of the aisle worked to get that last agreement that we did in 2008, and while we are doing this, we will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil. So I was surprised to hear that this legislation--the McConnell-Inhofe amendment--would overturn all that progress we have made in the last couple decades on having cleaner air and more opportunities for fuel efficiency.

When I look at this, I look at our domestic automakers in Detroit who are making much more progress based on this new generation of technology. Our domestic automakers are getting back to profitability based on a new generation of vehicles offering much better fuel economy. So they are actually--because we have said you have to have more fuel-efficient cars--they are actually now winning in the marketplace with consumers because of those offerings. I know the Department of Energy, for the first time, has said we have reduced our dependence on foreign oil because of these fuel economy improvements.

So I say to my colleague from California, it was not because of ``drill, baby, drill'' that we got fuel efficiency and got off foreign oil. It was because we had fuel efficiency in automobiles that we were able to reduce our dependence.

So I ask my friend from California why we would want to go backward on that if we have made progress and better cars out of Detroit, if they have become cheaper for consumers over the life of the car. If we have made advancements in reducing our dependence on fossil fuel, why would we want Americans to pay more at the pump and have cars that do not go as far per gallon of gas as they do today? So I do not understand what kind of scheme this is, to keep the oil companies in business? Why would we want to go back on that level of fuel efficiency and override that by this amendment?

Am I correct in understanding that?

Mrs. BOXER. I will answer and then yield for further questioning. The Senator is making the case so clearly. The one area we know we can make progress on in terms of getting off foreign oil is cars that get better fuel economy. My friend worked so diligently on the Commerce Committee, along with Senator Snowe, Senator Feinstein, and others. We all worked. But my friend took a tremendous lead on it.

In this particular amendment, which is named something that has nothing to do with reducing or preventing gas taxes or something--it has nothing to do with that. If this passes--and I hope it will not pass--but if it were to be signed into law, it essentially takes the EPA completely out of the picture, in terms of fuel economy, which means that all the progress we have made in getting more fuel economy, cleaning up the air, will be gone.

This little child, shown in this picture, gasping for air, as it is, is going to be gasping for more air. Children are particularly vulnerable.

So the Senator is right on so many fronts. If we were to pass this, we would turn around from all our progress we just made. We would stop the States from being able to do more on their own. We would lose the competition in the world for the most fuel-efficient vehicles, which is so critical--everybody looks to us--and consumers, as my friend points out, would miss out on, frankly, thousands of dollars a year in savings.

I hope I have answered my friend's question.

Ms. CANTWELL. I am amazed because my predecessor, a Republican from Washington, was fighting for fuel efficiency standards in the 1990s. So I do not know why we would be here in 2011 with a radical proposal to basically erase the ability for fuel efficiency standards.

But I have a question about public health too because I think my colleague from California has articulated something that is greater than any economic issue; that is, health and clean air and healthier children because of that. I do not understand why we would want to go back on the Clean Air Act as it relates to adverse health outcomes.

Why would you want to have more problems with asthma attacks, heart attacks, strokes, visits to the emergency room, hospitalization, premature deaths, all these things? EPA just came out with a comprehensive cost-benefit study on the Clean Air Act, and their findings were stark. They said the Clean Air Act will save our society $2 trillion through 2020. That is amazing.

So when I look at that, and we are going to say to polluters do not have to pay or adhere to the law, we are going to cause ourselves more costs in the future with health care. Yes, some polluters need to pay more, but as members of Congress we need to think of what's good for America, not just special interests. And the Clean Air Act creates $30 for every $1 investing in reducing pollution.

I ask my colleague from California, what is it that Senators McConnell and Inhofe think they know about this that is different than what the American Lung Association, the American Public Health Association, the American Thoracic Society, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, Physicians for Social Responsibility, and Trust for America's Health--what is it they know that those organizations do not know? Because those organizations are saying we have a serious health problem, and let's make sure it is addressed through the Clean Air Act. Are they just ignoring this issue?

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Ms. CANTWELL. I thank my colleague because my next question deals with technology. One thing I appreciate about working with the Senator from California is that we certainly share an interest in innovation and the innovation economy and making sure we do not do things to damage it, since so much job creation has happened from the technology sectors and from our improvements.

So I was surprised to think about this amendment from the perspective of that it would kill a wide range of jobs in America, including many that can't be outsourced. If we basically say we are going to allow people to continue to pollute and not adhere to the Clean Air Act, all those technologies that are about to get us off those pollutants and diversifying our energy sources would no longer be incented. The Senator and I probably would say we need to do a lot more to incent those and stop incenting those that cause so much harmful pollution.

But the United States is the largest producer and consumer of environmental technology, goods, and services. The environmental technology industry has approximately 119,000 firms and generates $300 billion in revenues and $43.8 billion in exports.

Mrs. BOXER. Could the Senator repeat that, please?

Ms. CANTWELL. That is just the environmental technology industry. So that is 119,000 firms, $300 billion in revenue, and $43 billion in exports. So it is a very vibrant part of our economy that is based on that we want to do something about toxic pollutants. If all of a sudden you pass a bill in the Senate saying we do not want to do anything about these toxic pollutants, even though the Clean Air Act says we should, and the Supreme Court said, yes, EPA you should, then all of a sudden we are basically saying: OK. How far are we willing to go in saying we do not need to deal with toxins and pollutants?

To me, the foreign markets in developing countries that are already getting an edge on some of the clean energy technologies would worry me that they would continue to make advancements even more with these technologies.

I do not understand why people would think this radical measure would somehow help us, when the foreign technology market would continue to grow, and we would lose market share.

But foreign markets, particularly those of developing countries offer the most opportunity for U.S. companies.

The U.S. share of foreign environmental technology markets has continued to grow from 5.7 percent in 1997 to 9.8 percent in 2007, giving the U.S. environmental technology industry a positive trade surplus for the past decade.

I ask my friend from California, doesn't it make more sense to think about the future jobs we are trying to attract--because they are so much bigger--than thinking about this in the sense of 20th century jobs? That is almost what we are advocating: Let's go back to saying, if you are a pollutant, it is OK because somehow you are creating jobs.

I ask my colleague, isn't the market opportunity more in these technology jobs and environmental technology jobs?

Mrs. BOXER. Well, my friend is so right. If this is an economic argument, bring it on to us. We know the numbers. The Senator has laid them out. We know tens of thousands of firms are moving forward because we have these laws on the books. The clean air technologies and the clean water technologies and the safe drinking water technologies are wanted by the whole world.

I have to say to my friends who are pushing this--I wish to tell them something they do not seem to either understand or maybe they do not want to hear, but I am going to say it--the whole world is going green, no matter where you look. Walmart is going green. I have had my differences with them on their policies on workers.

Walmart is going green. And why? Because, as my friend said, it saves money. The whole world is going green. What does it mean? It means everyone wants to save money. Everyone is looking for better energy opportunities that are clean. And everybody wants clean energy. If we back away from that, we are saying to China: Go for it. You will get the whole market, and we will still be pumping for oil.

By the way, I have a message on that front: Oil companies have 57 million acres of land and offshore tracts they already have a permit to drill in. My friends on the other side, in another debate, keep saying: Let's drill, drill. Why don't they drill where they already have the leases and it is already approved? So that is not at debate here.

What is at debate here is why would we, as my friend asked me, turn away from policies that result in clean technologies that the entire world wants--clean technologies that support more than 100,000 businesses and tens of thousands of more jobs? Why would we do that? My answer is, to me, it would be a self-inflicted wound on our country, when this is an opportunity.

I think my friend from Washington knows John Doerr who is a venture capitalist. He has told us for years now that if we invest in clean energy, if we incentivize clean energy, the venture capitalists will come off the sidelines with more billions than they ever gave to high tech and biotech combined. So why would anyone support this amendment which would turn the clock back on fuel economy, as my friend said, on clean energy technology, and turn the clock back on our little kids who are struggling as it is with asthma?

I yield for another question.

Ms. CANTWELL. I thank my colleague from California.

I am also interested in the Senator's opinion about this as it relates to gas prices because people are--I think House Republicans, anyway, and maybe even the minority leader, feel that if we pass this amendment, somehow gas prices are going to come down. Well clearly they don't believe this radical measure will actually pass because then they would have to worry about misleading their constituents.

We all know this: It seems about every summer we have these debates about the impact of gas prices. But this measure is so radical. When I think about even if EPA continued to act on their fulfillment of the Supreme Court decision that they must act in regulating pollutants--and rules on oil refineries won't even go into effect until December of 2011 and the final rules aren't even due until July 2011. So we are talking about rules that don't go into effect until 2013, 2014, 2015.

I ask my colleague from California, how would that have an impact? We don't even know what they are going to be. We have to wait until July, hopefully, to hear from EPA about that. So, somehow, that is going to affect gas prices today?

I think what we know to be true is that getting off of oil and having more fuel-efficient cars has reduced our dependence, saved consumers money, and allowed them to have a choice in the marketplace. We ought to continue in that direction, not this direction. But does the Senator think those rules going into effect are somehow having an effect today? Aren't we talking about people who have already written about this as false rhetoric in the debate, that it is not accurate and that this will impact the price at the pump tomorrow?

Mrs. BOXER. Well, of course my friend from Washington is right on target when she points out that--first of all, the EPA is being very cautious in the way it moves on this. They are only going after the biggest, dirtiest polluters. I think most of the people I talk to out there say--my mother always said, Clean up your room. If you are belching all of this smoke into the air, you have to take some responsibility for it, especially when you are making billions and billions and billions of dollars of profit.

No one has come to me and said big oil is suffering because they were under the Clean Air Act all of these years. But it is true. There is no pressing matter before us. They are using the problems in Libya and the tragedy in Japan.

The Upton bill, as in this McConnell amendment, says--Upton: A bill that would halt the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases would help stop rising gas prices. That is what he says, that this amendment before us will help stop rising gas prices. The nonpartisan PolitiFact, which is an independent Web site, looked at this. When they came to the end of looking at Mr. Upton's claim that this would reduce gas prices--and this is the same bill as the Upton bill--they say, We find this claim false.

I feel comfortable in this debate because I am on the side of the truth. I am on the side of the American people who are telling us: Stop, Congress. Don't tell EPA to stop enforcing the law. That is wrong. So I feel good about that. We are on the side of these children whom we are protecting. We are on the side of consumers. We are on the side of progress. We are on the side of business. We are on the side of exports. We want America to be the leader.

My friend from Washington is an innovator. My friend knows what it is to go to the capital markets and say, I have a great idea, and she knows what government can do to encourage this type of investment. Government can't do everything, but we can set the stage. One of the ways we set the stage for a great multibillion-dollar economy to take off is by having a Clean Air Act that saves our children from these terrible air-gasping days, but also creates technology that cleans up our air.

My friend is so right. The false claim that this amendment is going to lower gas prices has been debunked right now. That claim has been debunked by people who have no axe to grind.

I appreciate my friend coming here and engaging this. Does she have any further questions?

Ms. CANTWELL. I do, if the Senator from California would indulge me on this. Because I see our colleagues on the floor, and as a member of the Small Business Committee I am as frustrated as they are that this important legislation that would help small businesses in America grow is being now held hostage by this amendment.

I look at this issue, the broader issue of discussion, as some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have said, as a major policy issue. Well, if it is a major policy issue and it is a major policy change, why should we try to hang it in an amendment onto the small business bill? Is that making some industry happy? Is that why they are doing it? Because if this is, as they are saying, a major policy issue, then let's have a major policy discussion. I know my colleague and I support legislation that would instigate a major policy discussion here. Some of that legislation has gotten bipartisan support. I think some of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle have been saying we should address climate. Well, if that is the case, let's have that broad debate. Is that the understanding of my colleague, that some Republicans wish to address it and are saying now that we need to address it and not leave it all to EPA? If that is the case, then let's have that debate, but let's not have a rifle shot amendment that basically guts the law as it is being implemented. Let's have a discussion about what would be a more flexible approach to implementation of the requirements to regulate pollutants.

Mrs. BOXER. The Senator from Washington poses an important question, and that is: Why are we seeing this kind of amendment on a small business bill? It is ridiculous. It makes the American people lose faith in us, frankly. This is a bill about small business innovation. This isn't a bill that is about telling EPA they can no longer do their job in protecting the American people. This is ridiculous.

We already know from reports how many lives have been saved. We have it here, and I want my friend to see this. In 2010, the Clean Air Act prevented 160,000 cases of premature deaths. That is a fact. By 2020, that number is projected to grow to 230,000. So excuse me. If this amendment were to pass and stop EPA from cleaning up the air, people will die.

If this is what you want to do, don't hang it on a small business bill. Why don't you have a press conference and say, You know what, we don't think this is worth it: 160,000 deaths; win a few, lose a few, you know. They don't care at all. But we care, and that is why we are talking about this.

I yield again to my friend.

This is what they would turn away from: preventing 160,000 premature deaths--that is documented--in 2010 alone.

Ms. CANTWELL. I have one last question for my colleague. I think these attempts that try to carve out pollutants and give them exemptions are never good policy, because there is so much at stake for the American people who believe our job is to protect them with clean air and clean water and to make sure that polluters are regulated. But it reminds me of that 2003 energy bill that was kind of done behind closed doors when the whole MTBE debate--you know, the additive to fuel--came up. I remember one newspaper ended up dubbing the bill the ``hooters and polluters and corporate looters'' bill or something like that, because it ended up trying to carve out for the manufacturers of that product that they would be exempted. It was a bipartisan effort on the Senate floor. My colleagues from the Northeast, from New Hampshire, I believe, and there may have been the Senators from Maine, all said, Wait a minute. We are not going to exempt MTBE from this legislation as a way to get an energy policy for the future.

I ask my colleague from California if she remembers that and other attempts to try to do this without the public fully understanding what is at stake for clean air and clean water, and if she remembers that failure because of doing this. It left the public vulnerable. Are there other instances of that debate she could recall for us? Because I think it is very similar.

Mrs. BOXER. There have clearly been a lot of moves on the part of special interests in this country--the biggest polluters--to try to get their way, and they try every which way to try to get their way. If they were to present the case to the Senator from Washington or to me that what they want is good for the American people, that is great. Make the case. Who could ever make the case that stopping the EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act is good for the people? They can't. So what do they do? My friend is right to recall these other attempts. They couch it as: Oh, it is going to lower the price of gas, or it is good for business, or it is good for jobs. The truth is, it is devastating for all of those things.

My friend from Washington has been a leader on consumer protection. Oh, my goodness, we remember the fights when we had the Enrons of the world destroying people by raising the price of electricity behind closed doors, and the conspiracy to do that. Remember those battles we were in? These battles keep coming back at us. Does my colleague know--my friend is asking me questions, but I would ask her one rhetorically. This amendment is so radical, it goes after fuel economy standards, and it says, No more. EPA, you are out of that. You can't deal with it ever again, even though we know fuel economy, when we get it done right, takes those toxins out of the air, plus we get better fuel mileage, and that will get us off of foreign oil. It takes that away. Chalk one up in the Middle East for oil barons. That is good for them. It is not good for America, but yes, chalk that up for them.

We already know what happens to kids. Let's show this picture because it shows the look on this child's face. This is what happens to our kids when the air is dirty.

The fact is, if we take EPA out of the business of cleaning up carbon pollution and all the co-contaminants that go into the air with it, such as mercury and others I could list, people are going to be sick. But here is beyond the pale what they do: In addition to those things, they even stop in this amendment the Carbon Registry, so that, America, you might as well cover your eyes, cover your ears, and cover your mouth, because you will not speak evil, you will not hear evil, you will not see evil. You will not see, you will not hear, and you cannot speak about the carbon pollution in the air.

That is what is going on here. So my friend is right to connect this to a whole line of faulty reasoning that the American people have been asked to swallow.

But I have news for you. They are smart. Madam President, 69 percent think EPA should update the Clean Air Act standards with stricter air pollution limits; 68 percent believe Congress should not stop EPA from enforcing the Clean Air Act; and 69 percent believe EPA scientists, not Congress, should set pollution standards.

So this vote we will have tonight--I hope we will have it tonight--is about whether Congress should play doctor and scientist and decide what is best for the people or allow that to be done by the physicians, by the scientists, and by an agency that is extremely popular in this country.

It is not popular right here, right now, I will tell you that, because the polluters don't want anything to do with it. But we don't represent polluters, we represent everyone--everyone. And a vast majority want us to say no to this McConnell amendment.

So I yield to my friend, if she has a final comment or question.

Ms. CANTWELL. I thank the chair of the EPW Committee, a great legislator, for protecting the interests of consumers on this issue. I serve with the Senator on the Commerce Committee, and I see her fight for consumers every day. Her passengers' bill of rights for the airlines on the FAA bill is another perfect example of how she is thinking about how all legislation impacts individuals and their rights, and this is about the right to clean air and clean water and to make sure we are not going to cut EPA out of the regulation of pollutants business. I don't know why we would do that. That is their day job. They are supposed to regulate pollutants. The Supreme Court says they are supposed to regulate pollutants.

So I thank my colleague for waging this battle against this amendment that, as she has outlined, has these radical notions in it. But I guess I go back and say: We can try to keep hanging on to the past and saying the past is going to take us somewhere, but that usually doesn't work.

My colleague from California understands probably more than any other because of the efficiency gains her State, California, has made in creating jobs and in getting more out of our current energy supply. The initiative that was just run in California, I think that was about going back to the past, too, wasn't it? That was the initiative where people said: Do we want to go backward or forward? The people spoke in California, and they said let's move forward.

So I would conclude by thanking my colleague and asking her just one last time, from an economic perspective, if America can afford this amendment. How can we afford this amendment if it is going to cost us that much in health care costs; if it is going to cause the loss of the advancements we have seen in the automobile industry? I would think Detroit alone, if we pass this amendment, would stop and say: Wait a minute. Do we even have to comply with the mile-per-gallon already on the books because it seems as if Congress is saying they are out of the business.

So I would just say to my colleague from California, how can we afford this amendment? They would like to try to claim that as the only high ground of their debate, that somehow they are protecting jobs. But they are not protecting jobs. They are basically trying to take 18th-, 19th-, and 20th-century jobs and somehow saying they do not have to comply with the Clean Air Act. So I, again, ask my colleague whether we can afford that kind of amendment and just thank her for her leadership and tremendous support.

We all come here for different reasons, and we are all motivated by different reasons, but I know the Senator from California is motivated by doing what is right for the consumer and consumer interests. So I thank her for standing up for that voice that may not be heard today on this important issue.

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