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Creating Long-Term Energy Alternatives For The Nation Act Of 2007

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. OBAMA. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the compromise amendment that has been offered by Senator Stevens. I appreciate the hard work and the long hours expended by the proponents of this amendment to craft an approach that bridges the significant differences on this issue. I commend all who were involved for their good work, their diligent work.

This amendment is a good start, and I intend to support it. I also believe we can and should do more to improve the fuel efficiency of our cars and our trucks. With this bill, we have a great opportunity to finally end a 20-year stalemate and accomplish something that will benefit all of us--require our cars to go further on a tank of gas. This is the moment. The window is open, and I believe a bold approach is needed to achieve a major reduction in our Nation's dependence on foreign oil and the emission of greenhouse gases. A bold approach is what made all of the difference almost three decades ago when Congress first established the Corporate Average Fuel Economy, or CAFE, program. At the time, auto executives protested, much as they protest today, saying there is no way to increase fuel economy without making cars smaller. One company predicted Americans would all be driving subcompact cars as a result of CAFE. Anyone can see today that some of our SUVs are the size of about three or four subcompacts put together.

The fact is, CAFE worked. It nearly doubled the average gas mileage of cars from 14 miles per gallon in 1976 to 27.5 miles per gallon in 1985. The increase in fuel economy saves us almost 3 million barrels of oil per day and prevents the emission of over 1 million tons of carbon dioxide per day.

But our oil dependence has only gotten worse, and that is why we need a major improvement in fuel economy standards. Americans are now paying more than $3 a gallon for gas. We are importing 60 percent of our oil, much of it from the Middle East. Osama bin Laden has identified this dependence as a weakness, urging his supporters to ``focus your operations on oil, especially in Iraq and the gulf area, since this will cause [the Americans] to die off.''

The environmental effects of our oil dependence are also severe. The oil used in transportation accounts for a third of our Nation's emissions of greenhouse gases. Just in the last few months, we heard from a panel of top climate change experts from around the world that global warming is a certainty and that most of the temperature increase is likely due to rising greenhouse gas concentrations.

All this, and yet the CAFE standards have not changed in 20 years. This deadlock deepens our dependence on foreign oil and impedes our efforts to address global climate change. Since 1985, efforts to raise the CAFE standards have been blocked by opponents who argued Congress does not possess the expertise to set specific benchmarks and that an inflexible congressional mandate would result in a sacrifice of safety.

I am confident we could achieve higher fuel efficiency standards, and we could do this in a cost-effective manner without sacrificing safety. According to a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation, technologies exist today that can improve light-duty vehicle fuel economy by up to 50 percent over the next 10 years without any sacrifice in safety, through improvements in engines, transmissions, aerodynamics, and tires. Fuel savings would be more than enough to cover the cost of these improvements when gas is at $3 per gallon.

Last year, I first joined with Senators Lugar, Biden, Smith, Bingaman, Harkin, Coleman, and Durbin to introduce the Fuel Economy Reform Act. This bill set a new course by establishing regular, continual, and incremental progress on fuel economy standards, targeting a 4-percent annual increase but preserving some flexibility for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to determine how to meet those targets.

I also believe we should look for ways to help automakers meet higher CAFE standards. The Health Care for Hybrids Act that I introduced is an example of how we can offer constructive assistance. This bill would establish a voluntary program in which automakers could choose to receive Federal financial assistance toward their retiree health care costs in return for investing the savings into developing fuel-efficient vehicles. This proposal could jump-start the industry's efforts to develop new technology, improve the competitiveness of U.S. automakers in the growing market for hybrid vehicles, and help auto workers to get the health care they have been promised.

Today's agreement makes long overdue progress on weaning America off our dependence on foreign oil and fighting climate change. It is an important step forward but bolder action will be necessary if we want to solve the dual problem facing our country.

I will support this bill and this increase in fuel efficiency standards.

Again, I commend all those who have worked so diligently to move this amendment forward. I do have to say, though, that I regret we have missed an opportunity to do more today. I will continue to work in the months to come to see if we can make some further progress on this front.

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