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FLOOR SPEECH: Moving America toward Energy Independence

Location: Washington, DC

In 2008, this nation was in the middle of an energy crisis not unlike the one that we are again facing today. Back then, Nevadans were confronted with record prices at the pump and this body did nothing to relieve their burden. When I joined with my colleagues to demand that we explore our own domestic energy possibilities, the call fell on deaf ears. In May of 2007, I said that, "moving America toward energy independence needs to be more than a bumper sticker and a campaign slogan. . ." Unfortunately, it has remained just that.

Campaign promises to protect our nation's security interests remained on the campaign trail and cheers from political rallies to increase America's energy independence were left behind with the deflated balloons and forgotten confetti. Well, here we are. My colleagues on this side of the aisle and I warned against what an unstable Middle East would mean for our gas needs, and yet today we are witnessing turmoil in the region and escalating gas prices once again. Unfortunately, the difference this time around is our economy.

My state of Nevada has continued to suffer the most during this recession, and economists are not predicting a quick economic turnaround for our state anytime soon. The problem with this new energy crisis is that a record number of people in Nevada are without jobs and without homes, how are they supposed to afford $4 or maybe even $5 a gallon at the pump? I'll tell you very simply: they cannot.

Middle East Unrest:

Recent unrest in Egypt and Libya has forced gas prices to rise nearly 34 cents a gallon. To those struggling back in my state, that is verging on unaffordable, and to those who are worse off, it already is. The price of gas is at a 2 year high. The average price for a gallon of gasoline is $3.52. When President Obama first took office, the average price for a gallon of gasoline was $1.84; this is a 91% increase. What are we doing? Nothing.

In Nevada, gas prices are rising above $3.60 a gallon. The biggest concern with the rising cost of gas is that it translates into higher grocery store prices and utility bills. I have spoken at length over the past year about people in my state who are being forced to decide between paying their rent or putting food on the table to feed their families; what are they going to do if they cannot afford to do either? This is a saddening thought for me, but a reality for many others.

Throughout the economic downturn, members from both sides of the aisle have come to the floor to talk about people back home in their states who are suffering. Philosophical differences aside, both parties have put forth legislation that they believe will help the economic plight of many Americans, but what have we done about the energy prices that threaten to derail recovering families? Nothing.

Rising gas prices affect nearly every sector of our economy. Everywhere you look in America today, our economy continues to be directly affected by the skyrocketing price of fuel. At a time when unemployment is over 14% in Nevada, and Americans are already struggling financially, we can no longer afford to allow this problem to be ignored or pushed aside. We need real solutions that develop our domestic energy and oil production and decrease our dependence on dangerous foreign oil. We send over 500 billion to buy foreign oil; a lot of that money ends up financing people who would do us harm. What America needs is an "everything but dangerous foreign oil policy" to ensure that the price of gas does not further cripple our crumbling economy.

Everything But:

In 2008, I spoke on the Senate floor and said the following words:

"The American people are looking to us for solutions. We have a responsibility to make difficult decisions here in order to provide them much-needed relief at home. For many months, Republicans have been working to provide that relief. We've been focused on a three-pronged approach: boosting renewable and alternative energy, encouraging energy efficiency, and growing our American energy supply. This line of attack balances the need for us to be responsible stewards of our environment with the need for reliable, affordable energy to fuel our lives and our economy."

Again, that is what I said back in 2008 when Republicans wanted to address the need for American energy independence, but the Democrat majority had other priorities. We cannot keep passing the buck onto another Congress; we need to take action now. Just like with spending cuts, everything needs to be on the table when discussing American energy independence. By working to eradicate our dangerous dependence on foreign oil from the Middle East and Venezuela we can protect Americans from choosing between paying their rent, providing food for their families, or paying for gas to drive to work.

So what does an "everything but dangerous foreign oil approach" entail?

It means:

10 billion barrels in ANWR.

28 billion barrels in deep sea exploration.

1.8 trillion barrels from oil shale in Colorado, Utah, and Wyoming

Trillions of cubic feet in American natural gas

A 230-year supply of coal and great potential in nuclear energy

These American sources, combined with conservation and aggressive investment in renewable and green energy-- solar, wind, geothermal, hydropower, fuel cells and electric vehicles --are the key to our American energy independence. In fact, my state of Nevada is actually a shining example of the innovations being made on these fronts.

Nevada Solar One in Boulder City is one of the largest-capacity solar power plants built in the world and generates enough electricity to power at least 14,000 households a year. Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas has the nation's biggest photovoltaic solar power system which supplies 30 percent of the energy used at the base. Henderson has Nevada's first solar community, where each home has a rooftop solar electric system. And late in 2007, Ausra, Inc. selected Las Vegas as the site of the first U.S. manufacturing plant for solar thermal power systems. The world's third largest geothermal power producer is headquartered in Reno and Nevada is home to the only associate degree program in the nation in energy efficiency.

It's absurd to think that people in Nevada are going to be crippled by increasing prices at the pump at the same time that our state is leading the way in renewable energy innovation, simply because Congress will not act to address this crisis. Throughout this last year, bills were passed, filled with unintended consequences, because every dip in the economy was deemed by some to be a crisis that required an immediate solution, and yet we knowingly continue to ignore the energy crisis that will continue to plague our country every time that the Middle East cannot get along.

According to the Department of Energy, oil is the source of more than 40% of our total energy demands and more than 99% of the fuel we use in our cars and trucks. The United States consumed 18.8 million barrels per day of petroleum products during 2009, making us the world's largest petroleum consumer. We receive over half of this oil, 51%, from foreign sources, predominately from the Middle East, Africa and Central America. We cannot continue to ignore this issue; inaction is no longer an option.

The Obama administration's approach to developing domestic energy production has been to impose regulations, withdraw permits, and shut off access to lands that contain valuable oil and natural gas deposits. In addition, the EPA is currently regulating domestic energy resources for greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. We can no longer afford for organizations such as the EPA claiming authority to cut off our access to resources because of arbitrary rules based on unsound science. These backdoor climate regulations could increase the cost of gasoline and electricity by 50 percent.

These policies work to promote our dependence on foreign oil and do nothing to reduce the cost for Americans. 10 billion barrels in ANWR mean that not drilling is not an option. ANWR is roughly the size of South Carolina, but the drilling area is only about the size of McCarran Airport in Las Vegas; we could access this area during the winter months, clean it up and make it like new again in time for breeding in the spring. Additionally, at least 40 billion barrels of recoverable oil in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska and the Chukchi and Beaufort seas mean that Alaska alone can replace crude imports from the Persian Gulf for nearly 65 years. Let me repeat that, 65 years! I bet that's a statistic that the Obama Administration would rather keep hidden. As a matter of fact, they are keeping it hidden by the EPA blocking the ability for Americans to go in and get those oil and natural gas reserves.

In Louisiana, drilling for natural gas in the Haynesville Shale resulted in an estimated $5.7 billion in new household earnings for Louisiana residents in 2009, and created over 50,000 jobs. Now we are finding out that more reserves located in central Louisiana and south Mississippi may contain 7 billion more barrels of natural gas. In fact the abundance of these natural gas reserves is staggering. Shale reserves in Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, and West Virginia could provide us with billions of barrels of natural gas. Yet in the midst of this abundance, the Administration has strapped down these reserves with regulations and permits.

The solution to this is simple: streamline the permitting process to allow America to access our own resources without the hindrance of bureaucratic red tape. If we are allowed to fully tap into the potential of these reserves, we will be one step closer to developing affordable and environmentally safe compressed natural gas vehicles. This will not only curb our reliance on dangerous foreign oil, but also create even more jobs and put us at the forefront of alternative fuel technology. By using our own natural gas reserves, we can build more power plants, improve our transportation needs through busses and trucks that run on natural gas, power our fleets, and improve our country's ability to manufacture the steel, fabric, glass, and plastic that we need instead of outsourcing these jobs to other countries. 28 billion barrels of deep sea oil mean that the Obama Administration cannot continue to hold these reserves hostage by banning deep sea drilling.

The Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Coast areas alone hold commercial oil reserves of 28 billion barrels and up to 142 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Despite the Administration lifting its moratorium on permits in late 2010, only one deep water well permit has been issued in the past 11 months. We can and need to do better than this. Yesterday, it was reported that the Obama Administration will issue a "handful" of deep water drilling permits in the near future. Of course this comes as the Administration appeals a ruling from a federal judge who has ordered it to act on permits that have been pending and virtually ignored by the Administration.

Secretary Salazar, in a Senate subcommittee hearing yesterday, said that oil production in the Gulf will not drop significantly as a result of the Administration's delay, but we "may see a blip". This country cannot afford a blip Mr. Secretary, and we cannot afford to continue playing politics with American energy independence. We don't need a downward blip in oil production we need it to go up.

Solutions in Congress:
Recently, Senator Vitter drafted his "No Cost Stimulus Plan" or "3Ds." Those three Ds are domestic energy, domestic jobs and deficit. This bill aims to increase our ability to access our domestic energy sources to increase our energy independence. It would use these domestic energy sources to create thousands of real, private sector, long-term jobs in areas such as Nevada where we have the potential to lead the nation in renewable energy.

In 2009, the Obama Administration cancelled 77 oil and gas leases in Utah, and in 2010 it cancelled another 61 oil and gas leases in Montana. This is astounding to me because now instead of acting on American energy independence, we are trying to stifle the progress that we were making. Senator Vitter's legislation would direct the Obama Administration to reinstate the oil and gas leases that were cancelled, open ANWR to oil production and establish an ANWR Alternative Energy Trust Fund, so that we pay for renewable energy development with our own money and not with China, Saudi Arabia, and Russia's who own our outstanding debt. The bill also restricts the EPA from imposing regulations that cut off our access to oil and gas resources instead of utilizing them.


Once again, the United States faces an energy crisis because we have continued to focus on inaction, but Republicans have solutions and we are eager to start a conversation with those on the other side of the aisle about the best path toward American energy independence. The subject of budget cuts has long been avoided in Washington, but now it's dominating debate. Instead of sending billions of dollars that we do not have to foreign nations to fuel their turmoil and pay for our oil, we could be allowing the private sector to take American energy independence by the horns and secure our future and our economy. We have a responsibility to act and act now. We know what we need to do, we have the tools to do it, and now we just need to do it.

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