GULF OF MEXICO ENERGY SECURITY ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - August 01, 2006)
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. Under the previous order, the Senate will resume consideration of S. 3711, which the clerk will report.
The assistant legislative clerk read as follows:
A bill (S. 3711) to enhance the energy independence and security of the United States by providing for exploration, development, and production activities for mineral resources in the Gulf of Mexico, and for other purposes.
Frist amendment No. 4713, to establish an effective date.
Frist amendment No. 4714 (to amendment No. 4713), to amend the effective date.
The ACTING PRESIDENT pro tempore. The Senator from Kentucky.
Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, we just heard an interesting exchange between the Democratic and Republican leaders about the week's agenda. The Democratic leader indicated that this was a do-nothing Congress and in the same remarks he indicated he was going to try to keep us from doing something this week. As the occupant of the chair has frequently said, block and blame. But the truth is, it must be confusing for the people in the gallery and for those who might be watching on television to try to figure out in the middle of all this what is happening. Let me explain it again before addressing the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act, which is my principal reason for rising at this point.
This week, we are considering four bills, each of which enjoys bipartisan support: the Energy Security Act, which I will get back to in a minute, but also the Democratic version of the increase in the minimum wage, a tax extender bill that enjoys broad bipartisan support, and a modification and permanent reduction of the estate tax which also enjoys bipartisan support. So the Senate will have an opportunity, as the majority leader pointed out, later this week to do what it is about to do at 5 o'clock this afternoon on this important Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. We saw a vote yesterday in which 20 Democrats joined all but one Republican to discontinue debate and move toward passage of an extraordinarily significant Energy Policy Act. And there are a number of heroes and a heroine who have been involved in this process.
First, the chairman of the Energy Committee, Senator Domenici; this is a singular accomplishment for his leadership. He stepped into the breach, was able to figure out exactly what the Senate could handle and was willing to pass on a bipartisan basis some 3 or 4 months before an election and carefully crafted a compromise that will succeed this afternoon in making a major step forward in addressing our shortage of both domestic oil and natural gas.
Another hero in this story is the Senator from Florida, Mel Martinez. He stepped up to the plate and protected the interests of his State by getting a boundary around the gulf portion of Florida that ensures, up until 2022, that there be no exploration and drilling. There had to be Democrats for this to go forward. Senator Landrieu was able to very skillfully line up, as of yesterday--and we assume many of those 20 Democrats who voted for cloture yesterday will be there today--20 Democrats for final passage. Her colleague, Senator Vitter, and, for that matter, all of the gulf coast Senators who reached in to this atmosphere and realized a significant accomplishment would be available on a bipartisan basis that would benefit their States. And for other Members of the Senate not on the gulf coast who realize that getting money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund is an important step forward, a kind of permanent revenue stream for land and water conservation, all of these forces came to work, and we had an example of the Senate working in its finest tradition on a bipartisan basis.
We will have that opportunity again at the end of the week, as the majority leader pointed out, as we have our last chance this year to get an increase in the minimum wage, a permanent solution to the onerous death tax, which is coming back at a confiscatory rate in a few years, and a tax extender package that is widely supported on both sides of the aisle.
Hopefully, the Senate will not block and blame but act in the best interest of the American people later in the week.
Now let me address my remarks specifically to the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. I know that some have said this bill goes too far and others have said it goes not far enough. With apologies to Goldilocks, I think this bill is just right.
We have only reached the point of what I believe will be final passage of this bill after the negotiation I described earlier in the best tradition of the Senate--bipartisan negotiations producing an extraordinarily important piece of legislation. Senators from both parties have worked diligently and in good faith to craft legislation that could win the support of as many Senators as possible. This bill has the support of every single Senator from a Gulf State.
I am pleased to be a cosponsor of the bill and to have been involved on behalf of the leadership in these seemingly endless discussions that went on for the last couple of months in order to put this together.
I know a little something about marshaling support for a bill. Believe me when I say, although this bill may not have in it everything everyone wants, it will greatly improve our country's energy independence and move us toward greater economic prosperity and stronger national security. And it is absolutely the best bill the Senate could pass at this time.
High energy costs are hitting Americans in their pocketbooks because of supply problems for oil and for natural gas. This bill will begin to alleviate our supply problems and provide us with greater independence from foreign sources of energy. The Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act of 2006 will open up over 8.3 million acres of the Outer Continental Shelf for energy exploration. The Department of the Interior estimates that this area will yield at least 1.26 billion barrels of oil and 5.83 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. That is more oil than the proven reserves in Wyoming and Oklahoma combined. That is enough natural gas to power nearly 6 million homes for at least 15 years.
The price of crude oil, as recently as mid-July, reached a whopping $77 a barrel. Compare that with the price of $34 a barrel in July 2004. Increasing our domestic supply of oil is the only way, in the long term, to bring those prices down. The same holds true for natural gas prices, which also have skyrocketed in the last few years.
As we all know, the price of natural gas is set domestically in America, unlike the price of oil. So we can have a direct impact on natural gas prices in America by increasing the supply. We all know we need to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of energy. The current strife in the Middle East and the rising level of threatening rhetoric from Iran all affect the price of energy in the world market. The more oil and gas we produce domestically, the more we can insulate ourselves from events over which we have little or no control.
Rising energy prices also threaten America's economic vitality. High energy costs hamper our industrial competitiveness, as companies choose to produce goods in other countries where their costs will be much lower. For the goods produced here, prices are higher to take account of those higher energy costs.
The National Association of Manufacturers estimates that from 2000 to 2005, this country lost 2.9 million manufacturing jobs, due in part to high energy costs. Not only will this bill alleviate that problem by boosting America's energy supply, it will also generate revenues from lease sales, all of which are brand new. And 37.5 percent of those revenues will go to the Gulf States of Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas for coastal protection, restoration, and mitigation. Another 12.5 percent of the revenues will go to the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which will distribute the money to State and local governments for the improvement of public parks and recreation areas.
Finally, the remaining 50 percent will go to the General Treasury of the U.S. Government. Because this revenue comes from new leases, this will be an increase of funds--an increase, new money--to the General Treasury.
I also remind my colleagues that S. 3711 ensures that we carry out this energy exploration without sacrificing environmental concerns. This bill will install a 125-mile buffer against energy development in waters off of the coast of Florida, thanks to the negotiations of Senator Martinez, as I indicated earlier. He has protected the coastland of his State. And the bill will extend until the year 2022 a moratorium on energy development in certain areas of the gulf that this Senate has decided are too close to the coastline. Again, that is at the insistence of Senator Martinez.
This bill should garner all of our colleagues' support. It takes a step forward for our country's energy policy. I also thank the majority leader for all of his hard work to shepherd this bill to what I believe we are going to witness this afternoon, which is a strong, bipartisan vote of support. The Senate should pass it. It will reduce America's dependence on foreign sources of energy, while strengthening our economy.
Mr. President, I yield the floor.