Every one of us in Congress
has heard from our constituents about the high cost of gas. A gallon
is now $3 or more in most parts of the country, and there is every
reason to believe that figure will continue to climb throughout
the rest of the summer.
Americans are asking their
members of Congress to help lower some of these costs. And we should
do that. But let's not kid ourselves. This is a problem that was
decades in the making, and short-term political solutions - whether
it's a tax rebate or more legislation to stop price gouging - aren't
going to be the complete answer.
To be sure, most of these
proposals would do no harm, and many would provide Americans some
temporary relief at the pump. But in the long term, we can't rely
solely on quick fixes designed to placate an anxious public.
We need solutions designed
to permanently lessen our dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately,
both Congress and the White House have been unwilling to take the
politically difficult steps necessary to confront one of the most
pressing economic and national security challenges of the 21st century.
A perfect example is the
bill before us. It does do some good things: it marginally increases
the supply of oil, and it provides a financial boost to Gulf Coast
states that could use the help.
But fundamentally, the
bill only focuses on part of the problem - our inadequate supply
of oil. Unfortunately, increasing supply can't be our only answer.
Even if we opened up every square inch of this country for drilling,
America only has 3% of the world's oil reserves. With our own Energy
Department telling us that our demand for oil will jump 40% over
the next 20 years and countries like China and India adding millions
of cars to their roads, this means that if we truly hope to solve
this problem, we must focus on reducing demand.
Members on both sides of
the aisle have suggested some innovative ways to do this. Senator
Lugar and I introduced the America Fuels Act to increase the production
of homegrown biofuels. And Senator Bunning and I have worked on
a bill to produce liquid fuels from coal.
Unfortunately, we're not
going to have a debate this week on how to reduce the demand for
oil, because we weren't allowed to add any amendments to this bill
that would focus on that problem. Because contrary to the judgment
of every credible person who has examined our nation's energy woes,
the Republican leadership in the Senate believes we can solve our
energy problems by just drilling more. That's not only dishonest
-- it's a disservice to our constituents who want us to work together
to solve this crisis.
I'd like to spend a few
minutes today discussing two of the proposals that should have been
part of this energy debate - two proposals that could have made
this bill worthwhile.
First, we need to start
producing cars that use less oil. Thirty-three years ago, this nation
faced an energy crisis that affected every American. In the shadow
of a war against Israel, the Arab nations of OPEC chose to embargo
shipments of crude oil to the West. The shocks were felt in national
economies worldwide. Washington lawmakers responded by creating
daylight savings time and a national speed limit. A new Department
of Energy and a Strategic Petroleum Reserve was established. And
Congress enacted Corporate Average Fuel Economy - or CAFE - standards,
the first-ever requirements to reduce petroleum consumption in the
vehicles we drive.
As a result, the gas mileage
of cars doubled from 14 miles per gallon in 1976 to 27.5 mpg for
cars in 1985. Today, CAFE saves us about 3 million barrels of oil
per day, making it among the most successful energy-saving measures
ever adopted. But that decade's worth of fuel consumption improvements
ended more than 20 years ago, because CAFE standards are the same
today as they were in 1985 - 27.5 mpg for cars.
To address this problem,
I have joined with Senator Lugar and a bipartisan coalition of senators
to propose the Fuel Economy Reform Act, which we have also filed
as an amendment to the OCS bill.
This amendment would establish
regular, continual, and incremental progress in fuel economy, but
still preserve the expertise and flexibility of the National Highway
Traffic Safety Administration - or NHTSA - to determine how to meet
Under this proposal, CAFE
standards would increase by 4 percent every year unless NHTSA can
justify a deviation in that rate by proving that the increase is
either technologically unachievable, would materially reduce the
safety of automobiles, or is not cost-effective. For too long, the
presumption has been that the public would have to prove to the
auto industry why it should raise fuel economy standards. This proposal
would flip that presumption by asking the auto industry to prove
why it can't raise those standards.
Under this system, if the
4 percent annualized improvement occurs for ten years, we would
save 1.3 million barrels of oil per day - an astounding 20 billion
gallons of gasoline per year. If gasoline is just $2.50 per gallon,
consumers would save $50 billion at the pump in 2018. By 2018, we
would be cutting global warming pollution by 220 million metric
tons of carbon dioxide equivalent gases.
And yet, auto executives
are right when they say that transitioning to more fuel-efficient
automobiles would be costly at a time of sagging profits and stiff
competition, and that's precisely why the federal government shouldn't
let the industry face these challenges on their own.
The Fuel Economy Act provides
tax incentives to retool parts and assembly plants. But we should
do more than that. We need to help the Big Three automakers with
one of their largest expenses, namely, retiree health care costs,
which ran almost $6.7 billion just last year. For GM, these health
care costs represent $1,500 of the price of every GM car that's
made, which is more than what they pay for the steel.
To that end, I also have
filed an amendment to this bill based on the Health Care for Hybrids
Act that I introduced last year. That proposal would set up a voluntary
program in which automakers could choose to receive federal financial
assistance towards their retiree healthcare costs. In return, the
automakers would be required to reinvest these savings into developing
With the American consumer
demanding more hybrid vehicles - and that demand currently being
filled by foreign automakers - this proposal could jumpstart the
Big Three to commercialize new technology. More American hybrid
cars also ensure that there is competition in this growing market,
and would help keep car prices affordable.
If we had adopted these
two proposals decades ago, when the call for energy independence
was first issued in this country, today we wouldn't be nearly as
beholden to the whims of oil-rich dictators and surging gas prices.
And if we don't take these steps now, we will someday look back
on today's $3 per gallon gasoline as the good old days. At that
point, no amount of drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf will
solve our problems.
We could have taken these
common-sense steps now to reduce the demand for oil. We have the
need, we have the technology, we have the resources - but with this
bill, we refused to find the political will to get it done. We still
owe it to the American public to find that will.
Unfortunately, this bill
sends the wrong message. Instead of making tough political decisions
about how to reduce our insatiable demand for oil, this bill continues
to lull the American people into thinking that we can drill our
way out of our energy problems. We can't, and for that reason, I
plan to vote against this bill.