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Craig Thomas Rural Hospital And Provider Equity Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Madam President, the facts about our Nation's energy consumption are not pretty right now. The United States currently consumes one-quarter of the world's oil. Sixty percent of the oil we consume comes from foreign countries, including many countries whose interests are hostile to us.

To make matters worse, the oil used in the U.S. transportation sector accounts for one-third of our Nation's emissions of greenhouse gases. It is long past time for us to take significant steps to use oil more efficiently in order to deal with the dual challenges of climate change and energy dependence.

In January of this year, California took an important first step toward addressing this problem by establishing a low-carbon fuel standard for passenger vehicle fuels sold in the State. Under the California standard, the carbon intensity of these fuels would be reduced by 10 percent by the year 2020.

In signing the executive order creating the low carbon fuel standard, Governor Schwarzenegger noted some of the dangers of his State's excessive reliance on gasoline: volatile oil prices dictated by hostile foreign countries, lack of economic security, American jobs at risk, businesses in jeopardy, and, most importantly, dangerous levels of greenhouse gas emissions. I applauded the Governor's leadership on this issue and want to take his proposal one giant step further.

Today, I rise to suggest that it is time for us to establish a national low carbon fuel standard for the entire transportation fuel pool in the country, whether the fuel is used for cars, trucks, or airplanes. I recognize we will not be able to move this necessarily on the legislation currently pending, but it is important for us to introduce the concept. I have already spoken to Senator Bingaman.

If my proposal were to become law, by the year 2015, the carbon emissions in our national fuel supply would be 5 percent less than they are now. By the year 2020, the carbon emissions would be 10 percent less. The effect of these seemingly modest reductions would be significant. According to one estimate, a national low carbon fuel standard would reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions by about 180 metric tons in 2020. This is the equivalent of taking 30 million cars off the road by 2020.

My amendment would reduce carbon emissions overall in the transportation fuel pool, but it would not dictate what feedstocks could satisfy the low carbon fuel standard or how many gallons of a particular fuel would have to be produced. Instead, fuels could be mixed and matched to achieve the carbon reduction targets. In essence, the market would dictate what pool of fuels would be sold in the United States in order to satisfy requirements. The fuels could be corn-based ethanol, cellulosic ethanol, biodiesel made from soybeans, electricity used by plug-in hybrid vehicles, or perhaps some kind of fuel that has not even been developed yet. The only requirement is that the overall mix of fuels sold in the United States would have to meet the carbon reduction targets set forth in my proposal.

This is a new concept. Indeed, fewer than 6 months have passed since California adopted it. I know some of my colleagues are not familiar with how it would work, so let me address the relationship between the low carbon fuel standard and something we know a lot about, the renewable fuels standard.

Under the able leadership of the two Senators from New Mexico, the Energy Committee has crafted the underlying bill to require greater volumes of biofuels in our national fuel supply. The bill increases national production goals in the RFS over the next 15 years and establishes the first production targets of next-generation fuels such as cellulosics. Under the bill, the RFS target would increase to 36 billion gallons of renewable fuels by the year 2022. When combined with the new advanced biofuels requirement in the bill, this would result in an estimated 2 to 6 percent reduction in carbon emissions in our national fuel pool in 15 years. These are significant reductions, but I believe we can do better.

My low carbon fuel standard would require a 10-percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2020. I know that sounds ambitious, but the magnitude of our Nation's problems demands bold and innovative action. Indeed, the experts with whom we have consulted firmly believe that a 10-percent reduction is realistic, with greater research in advanced biofuels and new fuel sources. But that research will only happen if businesses are assured of a market for their new products. Just as the existing RFS has spurred the construction of ethanol plants, a low carbon fuel standard would incentivize development of new advanced fuels.

We in Congress support biofuels because these fuels strengthen our energy security, support our rural economies, and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. But our current policy doesn't recognize producers when they do a better job achieving these goals. Our farmers, manufacturers, and investors are ready to produce better biofuels, fuels that are more efficient, fuels that support a broader base of rural communities, fuels that reduce greenhouse gases by 90 percent or more, but they need a signal that their investment in better performance will be recognized in the marketplace.

Let me be clear: A low carbon fuel standard is not intended to replace the RFS. Instead, the two standards would complement each other by encouraging greater use of renewable fuels. Here is an important difference between the two standards: The RFS evaluates renewable fuel based on the feedstock that creates the fuel, while the low carbon fuel standard looks at the carbon emissions produced by the fuel. That is an important distinction as we wrestle with perhaps the greatest challenge of our generation--climate change.

Going forward, it is not enough just to say that a fuel uses homegrown products such as corn or soybeans. We also need to look at what effect the fuel has on carbon emissions. This amendment does that and, in doing so, offers something for everyone. If you support rural America, this approach ensures widespread development and use of biofuels from agricultural products. If you support energy security, this approach reduces our consumption of oil by 30 billion gallons by 2020, 60 percent of which would have to be imported from foreign sources. If you support certainty for industry, this approach provides the market certainty that is critical for investment dollars in key technologies. Most importantly, if you support the environment, this approach reduces carbon emissions by 180 metric tons by 2020 and ensures that any future billion-dollar capital investment in a fuel plant would have to produce a fuel with better life-cycle greenhouse gas emissions than conventional gasoline because under a low carbon fuel standard there would be no place for carbon-intensive fuels.

The energy debate this week underscores the fact that as we pursue the best course of action for our energy independence, there are no perfect answers. There is no single fuel or feedstock that offers the best combination of affordability, reliability, transportability, and sensitivity to the environment. Even if there were, I am not sure we in this Chamber would be the most qualified to identify it. But our current course; that is, maintaining our dependency on an unstable region of the world for the fuel we cannot live without, is far too great a risk to delay action. That requires us to take aggressive action that will set the stage for the second and third generation of fuels that will truly help us achieve energy independence and fight global warming. A low carbon fuel standard accomplishes these goals.

Finally, let me say a word to my colleagues about climate change. I know that when it comes to the word ``carbon,'' the range of views among my colleagues is varied and complex. I am among those Senators who believe carbon from human activities contributes to climate change, that it is an immediate threat, and that we must immediately require emission reductions through a strong cap-and-trade system. Others among my colleagues agree with some type of carbon-controlled economy but disagree with the various legislative approaches to date. Still others believe the climate is in no imminent danger.

The approach I have suggested here today addresses carbon, but it allows my colleagues to maintain their differences on the larger debate of climate change while coming together to achieve progress on all our multiple policy goals, whether it is ending our energy dependence, attacking the problem of climate change, promoting economic stability, or creating American jobs. I am aware this proposal may be a little bit ahead of its time, but given the magnitude of our problems, we can't afford to be too cautious in our policy solutions.

I am going to be urging my colleagues to learn more about this approach. I have talked to Senator Bingaman. I will be talking to Senator Boxer as well. My hope is that if we are not able to introduce this amendment during the current debate, we reserve time when we have a debate on dealing with global warming and climate change to ensure that this approach gets full consideration.

I thank the Chair and suggest the absence of a quorum.

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