Now that summer's over
and gas prices have finally come down a bit, there's a temptation
to put any discussion about energy on the back burner until the
next crisis arises. Gone are the days when the President would make
sweeping pronouncements in his State of the Union about America's
addiction to oil - today there is far more political mileage out
of questioning Democrats' commitment to fighting terror than by
affirming America's commitment to energy independence.
But as the President may
or may not have learned by now, simply ignoring a problem doesn't
make it go away. Because while headlines about price gouging and
gas lines have temporarily faded from the news, new headlines have
emerged that should have us every bit as concerned about the addiction
we just can't seem to shake.
In just the last week,
two in particular caught my eye.
One is from the Detroit
Free Press, and it talks about how Ford Motor Company plans to cut
30,000 hourly jobs, 14,000 salaried jobs, and close sixteen plants
Now, there are plenty of
reasons for Ford's financial troubles, but one of the most glaring
has been their inability to compete with foreign counterparts by
transitioning to the fuel-efficient and hybrid vehicles that represent
the future of the auto industry.
200,000 of these hybrids
are driving around China today, a country that already has a higher
fuel economy than we do. Over in Japan, Toyota is doubling production
of the popular Prius to sell 100,000 in the U.S. this year. But
at Ford, there are plans to make only 20,000 Escape Hybrids in 2006,
and GM's brand won't be on the market until 2007. Meanwhile, the
waiting lists for a hybrid car in this country get longer by the
These foreign auto companies
are out-innovating and out-competing us, and if we do nothing to
help U.S. carmakers, tens of thousands more jobs and billions in
business will be heading overseas in the months to come.
Unfortunately, job losses
and foreign competition are just the half of it. Because the second
headline that caught my eye was in Saturday's New York Times, and
it read, "Suicide Attacks Foiled at 2 Oil Sites in Yemen."
This news is disturbing,
but not surprising. For years, Al Qaeda has been trying to attack
Middle Eastern oil refineries as a way to wreak havoc on the U.S.
economy. Osama bin Laden himself has said, "Focus your operations
on oil, especially in Iraq and the Gulf area, since this will cause
them to die off [on their own]." In the past, even minor attacks
have caused global prices to jump $2 per barrel in a single day.
And a former CIA agent tells us that if terrorists ever succeeded
in destroying an entire oil complex, it could take enough oil off
the market to cause financial catastrophe in America.
More than anything else,
headlines like these represent a realization that goes far beyond
the temporary rise and fall of gas prices. It's a realization that
for all of our economic dominance - for all of our military might
- the Achilles heel of the most powerful country on Earth is the
oil we cannot live without.
The President knows this.
That thousands of autoworkers are losing their jobs. That we spend
$18 million on foreign oil ever hour. That our climate is changing
and global temperatures are rising.
And yet, for someone who
talks tough about defending America, actually solving our energy
crisis seems to factor pretty low on the President's agenda.
And that's because as much
as George Bush might want to defend America, he also needs to defend
his vision of government - and that's a government that can't, won't,
and shouldn't solve great national challenges like our energy dependence.
That's why the President's
funding for renewable fuels is at the same level it was the day
he took office. That's why his budget funds less then half of the
energy bill he himself signed into law. That's why billions of tax
dollars that could've been used to fund energy research went to
the record-profiting oil companies instead.
And that's why it's time
to stand up for a new vision of government this November.
You see, it's this timidity
- this smallness - in our politics that's holding us back right
now. The idea that some problems are just too big to handle, and
if you just ignore them, sooner or later, they'll go away.
But that's not where the
American people are. They still believe in an America where anything's
possible - they just don't think their leaders do. They still dream
big dreams - they just sense their leaders have forgotten how.
There's a reason that some
have compared the quest for energy independence to the Manhattan
Project or the Apollo moon landing. Like those historic efforts,
moving away from an oil economy is a major challenge that will require
a sustained national commitment.
During World War II, we
had an entire country working around the clock to produce enough
planes and tanks to beat the Axis powers. In the middle of the Cold
War, we built a national highway system so we had a quick way to
transport military equipment across the country. When we wanted
to beat the Russians into space, we poured millions into a national
education initiative that graduated thousands of new scientists
If we hope to strengthen
our security and create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, we can
offer no less of a commitment to energy independence.
With technology we have
on the shelves right now and fuels we can grow right here in America,
by 2025 we can reduce our oil imports by over 7.5. million barrels
per day - an amount greater than all the oil we are expected to
import from the entire Middle East.
We start by producing cars
that use less oil. The auto industry has not been asked to raise
fuel economy standards in seventeen years, and lately we've just
stopped asking them to.
Today, we have no choice.
Starting in 2008, if we raised CAF'E standards a modest 3% a year
over the next twelve years, by 2020 passenger vehicles would average
40.5 mpg and light trucks would average 32.6 mpg. This is by no
means a dramatic increase - five years ago, the National Academy
of Sciences concluded that raising CAF'E to 33 mpg for passenger
cars could easily be done without compromising passenger safety.
Not only would this reduce
America's oil consumption, but it would increase profits for the
auto industry. Yesterday a University of Michigan report came out
that said if the Big Three automakers took proactive steps to increase
the fuel-efficiency of their vehicles, they would stand to gain
up to $2 billion more in profits per year. But if they continue
on their current path, they could stand to lose up to $3.6 billion
Of course, auto executives
are right when they say that transitioning to these 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 costs on their own.
We should strike a grand
bargain with the Big Three automakers where the government picks
up part of the tab for their retiree health care costs - a tab that
ran almost $6.7 billion just last year - in exchange for the car
companies using that savings to invest in more fuel-efficient cars.
Beyond raising CAFE, however,
it's time we replace oil altogether as America's fuel of choice.
This doesn't just mean singing the praises of ethanol and hoping
that it finds its way into our fuel supply on its own. It means
taking major steps now to put a national biofuel infrastructure
Already, some cars on the
road have the flexible-fuel tanks necessary for them to run on E85,
a cheaper, cleaner blend of 85% ethanol and 15% gasoline. But millions
upon millions of cars still don't have these tanks.
It's time for them to install
those tanks in every single car they make, and it's time for the
government to cover this small cost, which currently runs at just
$100 per car. We should also make sure that from now on, every single
automobile the government purchases is a flex-fuel vehicle.
It's also a time to start
making E85 fueling stations more available to the public. Currently,
only 681 out of 170,000 fueling stations in America offer E85 pumps.
This is not acceptable. Every American should have the choice to
fill up their car with E85 at any fueling station. And oil companies
should stop standing in the way and join us in making this happen.
If the big oil companies would devote just 1% of their first quarter
profits this year to install E85 pumps, more than 7,000 service
stations would be able to serve E85 to hungry motorists.
Finally, we should reduce
the risk of investing in renewable fuels by providing loan guarantees
and venture capital to those entrepreneurs with the best plans to
develop and sell biofuels. And we should create a market for renewable
fuels by ramping up the renewable fuel standard and creating an
alternative diesel standard in this country that together would
blend 65 billion gallons of renewable fuels into the petroleum supply
In the days and months
after September 11th, Americans were waiting to be called to something
bigger than themselves. Just like their parents and grandparents
of the Greatest Generation, they were willing to serve and defend
their country - not only on the fields of war, but on the homefront
This is our chance to step
up and serve. For decades, we have heard President after President
call for energy independence in this country, but for decades, we
have fallen short. Well it's time to call on ourselves. We shouldn't
wait for the next time gas hits $3 a gallon - and we shouldn't accept
any more headlines that talk about a dying auto industry or a terrorist
plot to use oil as a weapon against America. We should act - and
we should act now.
Now is the time for serious
leadership to get us started down the path of energy independence.
Now is the time for this call to arms. I hope some of the ideas
I've laid out today can serve as a basis for this call, but I also
hope that members of both parties and all levels of government can
come together in the near future to launch this serious quest for
energy independence. Thank you.