TOPIC: Oil & Alternative Fuels
Saturday, April 23, 2005
SIUC College of Agriculture's 50th Anniversary
Full Text of Barack Obama’s Speech
you. It's always great to be here in Carbondale, and a real honor
to speak here at SIUC's first Agriculture Industry Day.
Now, I'll be honest
- I haven't done all that much farming living on the South Side
of Chicago. But I have to say, my fondest farming memory is when
I once offered to help out a friend with his harvest. Knowing the
full range of my agricultural experience and expertise, he took
one look at me and said..."no thanks."
So when I saw
that you guys needed a keynote speaker for a lecture entitled, "Growing
the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Economy in Southern
Illinois," I said "sign me up."
while I don't farm, what I did do during my eight years in the Illinois
State Senate, and what I'm doing now as a Senator in Washington,
is to constantly listen and learn from people who do farm and who
do know the business. And that has helped me tremendously in figuring
out how I can best stand up and speak out on the issues that matter
to family farmers and to the future of agriculture in this country.
Thanks to all
the hard work you're doing here at SIU, that future holds more promise
and more potential for America with each passing day. Because in
a world where globalization has made it possible for a student in
Carbondale to share ideas with one in Calcutta, yet necessary for
them to compete for the same jobs, the advances you're making in
agriculture could lead to the breakthroughs we need to maintain
America's global leadership in the years to come.
This is our new
challenge for the new century - and it's different than anything
we've ever faced before.
Just think about
what the world was like only fifty years ago, when the College of
Agriculture was a small, five-man department that taught its students
in a few old army barracks. Back then, the big challenge was navigating
the soils found in the hills and valleys of southern Illinois. If
you could master that, you were ready to graduate and live the farming
life, knowing that it would be enough to provide for you and your
And even if you
didn't go to a fine school like SIU, in those days you still had
a shot at the American Dream. Because whether it was on the farm
or in a factory, a middle-class job that paid a decent wage and
good benefits was easy to come by - and it would probably last you
a lifetime. Hard work and sacrifice paid off for most families,
and because of the wealth they built, America's economic leadership
But the world
has certainly changed since then, hasn't it?
Today, even a
college degree doesn't guarantee a middle-class job that will support
a family. What's worse, the cost of getting that degree and the
price of health care on that job are rising higher and faster than
ever before. Family farmers are being squeezed by big agribusiness,
and factory jobs are heading across the ocean where labor is cheap.
We can make sure
that the new jobs and new industries that take their place stay
in America - but it won't happen by itself. Countries like India
and China are churning out more and more qualified college graduates
who can compete directly with Americans for jobs that can now be
done anywhere in the world. If we want to stay on top, we'll need
a nationwide commitment to better education, better training, and
the research and discovery that have always made America a land
of innovation and optimism.
This is where
you guys come in.
The title of this
lecture - "Growing the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource
Economy in Southern Illinois" - is really too narrow to capture
the full potential of the work you're doing here at the College
of Agriculture. Fifty years ago, it may have only been about the
economy in southern Illinois. Fifty years ago, the work you're doing
may not have had an impact beyond the farms and borders of a small
town like Carbondale.
But today we live
in a different world.
Today, a discovery
made right here in your Food and Nutrition department could save
a person from a lifetime of diabetes in southern California. An
SIU student who publishes a paper online about the benefits of soy
in preventing prostate cancer could attract the attention of a researcher
in Boston who's working on a cure. And a professor who makes a breakthrough
in developing drought-resistant crops could save millions from hunger
Today, the work
you're doing here not only has the potential to improve the lives
of people in Illinois and across the world; it offers the opportunity
to develop new ideas that will lead to new jobs and a new competitive
edge for America in the 21st century. This is the way we can win
in the global economy, and here at this school in this Illinois
small town, you're helping us get there.
Right now, researchers
at this college are studying ways to improve the production and
efficiency of ethanol. Again, this may sound small, but just imagine
what this could do for our country.
Any of you who've
pulled into a gas station lately have noticed how high the prices
are getting. You might have decided to drive your car less, or you
might have noticed that the cost of gas is cutting into your family
budget. The price of oil has now climbed to a record of over $50
a barrel, and we don't even know how much worse it's going to get.
So what do we
do about this?
We only have 3%
of the world's oil reserves - 65% of our oil is imported from the
Middle East. So unless we want to stay dependent forever on a region
of the world that's dangerous, politically unstable, and willing
to do lord-knows-what with the price of oil, we must find new sources
of energy here in America.
It seems like
politicians have been saying this forever. But when you look at
the record gas prices, and the possibility for more war and turmoil
in the Middle East, it's clear that we need less talk and more action.
We can start by
producing more ethanol in America.
The future of
energy in this country doesn't have to remain in the deserts of
the Middle East; we can find it in the corn fields of Illinois and
across the Midwest.
our cars with a fuel we can literally grow as much as we want of.
Imagine using a fuel that's clean and healthy, that's selling for
50 cents cheaper than gasoline, and that places America's energy
needs in America's hands.
This kind of future
is here - but to expand ethanol's promise across the nation, you
guys need to keep up the great research here and we need to step
up the legislative process in Washington.
Recently, I joined
a few other Senators in introducing a bill that would increase America's
renewable fuel standard and increase ethanol production along with
it. A bill like this that's already passed the Senate twice would've
provided us with 500,000 barrels a day of refined ethanol for use
in gasoline and would save us $4 billion every year in imported
oil and gasoline costs.
Just think of
what this would do for our economy. Farmers would earn more for
their corn, businesses would invest more in the type of community-sized
ethanol facilities that would grow the downstate economy, and over
200,000 jobs would be created. We've got bipartisan support for
this bill, so I'm pretty confident that this is the year we're finally
going to get it done.
The other ethanol
bill I've introduced would make it easier for more cars to be powered
by cheaper, cleaner, ethanol-based fuel. As most of you probably
know, there's a fuel known as E85 that's made from 85% ethanol and
15% gasoline. It's a great alternative to gasoline, but the only
problem is that we're in short supply of E85 fueling stations. Down
here in southern Illinois, you drive by miles and miles of corn
fields that can produce ethanol, but only 3 E85 stations in all
of southern Illinois, and not one in Carbondale. So the bill I'm
sponsoring would provide a tax credit of 50% to anyone who wants
to build an E85 fuel station. And to give consumers a good deal
too, it'll provide a tax credit of 35 cents per gallon of E85 fuel.
We've talked for too long about energy independence in this country,
and I think these proposals finally give us an opportunity to do
something about it. You've all been doing your part here at SIU,
and it's high time for Washington to do our part.
I've always believed
that the incredible story of progress that is America has been built
by those who ask why, what if, and why not - questions asked by
the very students at this college every day they choose to confront
the challenges of this new century. It is this fundamental character
of the American spirit - the desire to move forward, look around
the next corner, and reach for the unreachable - that put the first
man on the moon, led to a cure for polio, and launched the technological
revolution of the nineties.
And as the College
of Agriculture looks ahead to its next fifty years, we'd do well
to ask ourselves "What will they say about us at the 100th
anniversary?" As we face a new and different world that brings
both great promise and great peril, what will we do move America
towards a new and better day?
You won't find
the answers from your professors - and certainly not from politicians.
You'll find them by continuing to ask yourselves those questions
- why, what if, and why not. And as you keep studying and researching
here at school, remember that the answers you discover will not
only have an impact where you live and learn, but across a world
that is just waiting to hear from the next generation of dreamers.