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Transportation Equity Act; A Legacy for Users -- Motion to Proceed

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Location: Washington, DC


TRANSPORTATION EQUITY ACT; A LEGACY FOR USERS--MOTION TO PROCEED -- (Senate - April 25, 2005)

Mr. KERRY. Mr. President, this morning, Americans braced themselves for another week of devastating news about the gas pump. This morning, Americans learned again of the record increases in the price of oil in America. When they turn on the news tonight, they are not going to learn of anything that has been done by this Congress or the administration in the past months or even past years. They are not going to see Washington taking the necessary steps to end our dependency on foreign oil. Instead, people will see President Bush meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah, a stark reminder of our dangerous dependence on foreign oil and how much that dependence threatens our economy as well as our national security.

The President offers strong words against nations that sponsor terror, but for those in control of 65 percent of the world's oil supply, those words are compromised from the get-go. That is wrong, but it is fundamentally what happens when the administration is committed to an energy future that is dependent on oil, oil, and more oil, at all costs, even if that cost is our national security.

The fact is, we are more dependent on foreign oil today than ever before. Despite the sharp rhetoric of the 1970s and the initial effort to try to be less dependent on oil, it has consistently increased. This dependence slows our economy, harms our environment, dilutes our national security, and it burdens Americans with the high gas prices they face today. Sadly, the President's energy bill, which we are going to soon debate in the Senate, fundamentally ignores these problems, and it does nothing to lower gas prices.

In the last days, the administration has conceded ``changes to production, consumption, imports and prices are negligible under the plan submitted to the Congress.'' Frankly, Washington has danced around this statement for a year now. But last week, President Bush himself acknowledged the truth. He said:

[The] energy bill wouldn't change the price at the pump today. I know that and you know that.

So if we all know that, why pass this Energy bill along in its current form when real solutions are staring us in the face? Americans are paying an average of $2.28 a gallon at the pump. That is up 6 cents in the last week, over 50 percent in the last year, and up a staggering 56 percent since 2001. The President's so-called energy plan does nothing to reduce our dependency on foreign oil. The President's own economists found oil imports will actually increase 85 percent by 2025 under a proposal such as the one we see in the Congress. Less than 5 percent of the incentives in this bill are devoted to developing alternative sources of energy. That is 5 percent for the future, 95 percent for the status quo.

In 2002, when the Senate passed an energy bill with a bipartisan vote of 88 to 11, the bill provided for a balanced tax package: 50 percent of the benefits to oil and gas and 50 percent to renewables. By abandoning that balanced, forward-looking approach, this bill sells out our Nation's dream of an energy independent future.

Why are we taking the time in the Senate and the House to discuss an energy bill that does not take the steps available to begin to free us from our dependency? The failure to aggressively address the dependency will condemn a generation of Americans to higher gas prices, and the problem will only get worse. The era when the United States, Japan, and Europe comprised the bulk of the world's demand for oil is long over. Oil consumption from developing Asian nations is going to more than double in the next 25 years, from 15 million to 32 million barrels a day. Chinese consumption will grow from 5 million to nearly 13 million per day. India's consumption will rise from 2 to more than 5 million barrels per day.

The escalating demand for foreign oil is simply unsustainable. Every American who has taken an economics class, who owns a small business, or who balances the family checkbook understands that when demand for the product goes up and supply of that product is limited, prices are going to go through the roof. If you do not own your own product, that is great, but if you do, you are in trouble. Obviously, we do not. The fact is that the United States only has 3 percent of the world's oil reserves. So no matter what happens, we are going to remain dependent if fossil fuel and oil are going to remain the staple of our transportation, heating, and other product sources in the United States.

In reality, international demand for oil is going up, and prices are going up as that demand goes up. There is little we can do to stop it unless we change the fundamentals on which we are currently producing and providing for the various oil needs of our Nation. We cannot drill our way out of this problem under any scenario whatever. Whether we drill in Alaska or even the oil in the deep water of the gulf, we cannot drill our way out of it.

America needs to move forward in the technology race. We need to invent our way out of it. The spectacle of an American President literally reduced to asking--some would describe it as begging--another country to open the spigots and try to provide some momentary relief is really its own statement about where we find ourselves today. The fact is, what we ought to be doing is accelerating research and development in our country.

Today's meeting with the Saudis really underscores what is wrong with the energy policy of our country. The danger of maintaining our dependence on foreign oil is so obvious that Americans cannot help but question the actions of this administration. The actions do not meet their words. The President has said the right things. Last week, he said:

With oil at more than $50 a barrel ..... energy companies do not need taxpayer funded incentives.

So he said the right thing. But the facts tell a different story. The Energy bill provides 95 percent of the tax benefits to oil and gas companies, with over $8 billion directly going to the oil and gas companies of the country. Only 5 percent--less than even in the bill we passed 2 years ago in the Senate, or 3 years ago--is going to go to those things that would actually provide Americans with relief. At a time when oil and gas prices are at historic highs, our energy policy ought to be aimed at investing in new and renewable sources of energy, not lining the pockets of the special interests.

On energy, the administration has not been leveling with the American people. I think the President and Congress continue to miss an extraordinary opportunity. Most public policy forces us to make difficult tradeoffs: foreign versus domestic, urban versus rural, consumer versus business. But energy policy does not require us to do that. Other than the big oil companies, everyone benefits from reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Energy policy provides us with a unique opportunity to address a huge group of challenges all at the same time.

If we lead the world in investing in new energy technologies, we create thousands of high-paying jobs right here in America. If we learn to tap clean energy sources, we preserve a clean environment for our families and future generations. We reduce mercury and acid rain. If we remove the burden of high gas prices, American consumers will have more cash in their pockets to spend on consumption products or on savings or on college or other things. That will all give our economy the boost it needs. Most importantly, if we end our dependence on foreign oil, we strengthen our national security.

The Energy bill before the Congress accomplishes none of these goals. In fact, it weakens all of them. Let me focus on one of those things that it weakens, our national security. Increased American energy dependence further entangles our Nation in unstable regions of the world and forces us even to compromise our values. In exchange for oil, we transfer wealth to people who have done us harm and would do us harm in the future.

This is, obviously, as bad for our troops and for those serving abroad as it is for people who experience the high gas prices here. We risk being drawn into dangerous conflicts because of our dependency in a particular region. We also see an already overburdened military that has to bear the consequence of that.

In recent years, U.S. forces have had to help protect the Cano Limon pipeline in Colombia. Our military had to train indigenous forces to protect the pipeline in Georgia. We plan to spend $100 million on a special network of police officers and special forces units to guard oil facilities around the Caspian Sea and to continue to search for bases in Africa so we can protect all of the facilities there. Our Navy patrolled tanker routes in the Indian Ocean, South China Sea, and the Western Pacific.

The reality is, we have to protect oil because that is what protects our way of life today. This is a serious issue, with real consequences, because of the unstable nature of conflict-ridden, oil-producing areas which challenge our security.

In the spring of 2004, insurgents attacked an Iraqi oil platform. There was violence against oil workers in Nigeria. The result was to press global oil output and record-high gasoline prices. We were helpless to stop it. I do not think any American wants to be helpless where national security is concerned.

Our dependence on foreign oil creates just the sort of alliances that George Washington warned against in 1796. These alliances with foreign suppliers leave us more vulnerable, and they can crumble the foundations of our economic and national security.

The most dangerous aspect of this is that we are not alone in this dependency. I mentioned it earlier: International demand for oil is rising at an alarming rate. Another word for ``demand'' is ``competition.'' Another word for ``competition'' is ``race.'' At this rate, the great powers of the world may resume the race to secure the remaining

energy reserves. That is an alarming scenario, but it is exactly the course we find ourselves on. With strong leadership, we can avoid it. But we cannot do it without a balanced energy plan that ends our dependence on foreign oil.

If anyone needs an example of how energy dependence can shortchange national security, look no further than the war on terror itself. If we assume oil miraculously drops back to $30 a barrel--no one assumes that, but if you did--over the next 25 years, the United States will send over 3 trillion American dollars out of the country, much of it to regimes that do not share our values, and even, in many cases, our goals.

It is bad enough to think that those $3 trillion are not going to go directly into the American economy, that they are going to go to other countries. It is worse to consider the impact on our volatile relationship with regimes such as the House of Saud, fragile as it finds itself increasingly today.

Our dependence on Saudi oil is a bad bargain for the war on terror. In the past, Hamas received almost half of its funding from Saudi Arabia. We know al-Qaida has relied on prominent Saudi Arabians for financing, and Saudi Arabia sponsors clerics who still, after all the rhetoric, promote the ideology of terror.

We all know what is going to happen today. The President is going to ask Prince Abdullah to raise production. But we have to be honest with the American people and acknowledge it is a short-term fix at best, and it is one that carries its risks.

In the year 2000, Governor Bush said he would ``jawbone OPEC'' to ``open the spigots.'' But 5 years later, either he has not jawboned enough or it is not important. It is time the administration learned the only long-term solution to America's energy crisis and to our security itself is to end our dependence on foreign oil.

National security is the most inexcusable casualty of our energy policy. But again, it is not the only one. Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan has said:

Markets for oil and natural gas have been subject to a degree of strain over the past year not experienced for a generation.

I might say, respectfully, it may not have been experienced for a generation, but it was entirely predictable that this would come around again, particularly when you look at the development rates of China, India, and other Asian and South Asian countries.

As the chairman of the President's Council of Economic Advisers said:

High energy prices are now a drag on our economy.

That is the Republican administration speaking for itself.

This administration's energy policy works for Saudi Arabia, it works for the countries that get those trillions of dollars, it works for big oil and gas companies--all of which have record profits. I think one of the top companies had a 213-percent increase in profits, others 146 percent, others in the double digits. Show me the American family whose income went up commensurately. Show me most American businesses that are struggling with health care costs and now have increased costs of transportation. The American trucking industry has billions of dollars, perhaps $20 billion paid out because of the rise in the cost of fuel.

So everyone is losing: consumers, small businesses, the environment, our troops, our security--everyone but the oil and gas companies.

We need an energy policy that works for America and works for the 21st century. We have successfully moved from different sources of fuel in our history. We went from wood to coal. We went from coal to oil.

We went from oil to a mix of oil and gas and coal and nuclear and hydroelectric, and now we are talking about wind power and other sources. We have the capacity to have various kinds of additives and even biodiesel and other forms, but we are not moving rapidly to secure the marketplace for those alternatives.

It is time now for America to make its next transition in fuel, to move to a mix of solar and wind and biomass and fuel cells and clean coal and other wonders of American ingenuity. We have huge reserves of coal. But despite all the rhetoric, the administration hasn't even adequately funded the clean coal technology program. We need to tap America's strength. The new president of MIT wrote a couple of articles the other day pointing out how America is slipping backwards in technology. All you have to do is pick up any of the analyses on competitiveness in technology in America today. America is producing fewer engineers, fewer scientists. Fewer kids in college are going into science and the physical sciences. Less money is being put into the R&D to move us into that competitive edge.

That competitive edge is what built the economy of the 1990s. It is what helped us to be able to create the high value-added jobs so we moved to an unemployment rate that was the lowest in the modern history of our Nation, and we paid down debt. We invested in the long-term future of our country. We have seen a complete reversal of that in the last 4 1/2 years.

I hope this Congress will do what it ought to do, not start pitting people against each other according to definitions of faith, but come here with faith in America and American ingenuity and understand that we need to tap America's strength. We need to tap our markets, our capacity for invention, innovation, and our values. That is the way we will control our own destiny. We need to embrace and foster a revolution toward an energy world that benefits our environment, our economy and, most importantly, our security.

The President's energy plan will bring us more of the same--the status quo, a more dangerous future of energy dependence and high prices. It is time we came together with a real energy policy that works for the American people and puts Americans back in charge of their future and liberates our children from the stranglehold of fossil fuel.

I yield the floor.

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