Energy Policy:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid discusses energy package being debated this week

With the Senate taking up a sprawling energy package that will seek to curb the United States' addiction to oil and increase energy efficiency this week, lawmakers are expecting debates on several key issues including, increasing corporate average fuel economy standards, implementing a renewable portfolio standard and starting a national climate registry. During today's E&ETV Event Coverage, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) discusses the upcoming floor debate and explains the provisions of the bill. Reid is joined by Carol Browner, a former administrator at U.S. EPA and currently a principal at The Albright Group.

Transcript

Carol Browner: As we all know, energy and global warming are in the news today and every day. Whether it's high gasoline prices, disruption of foreign oil supplies, melting Greenland ice sheets, or strange weather patterns, energy and global warming have become a kitchen table issue.

This heightened visibility is reflected in the findings by a recent poll by the Center for American Progress. Respondents to that poll said that their number two, their number two domestic priority was to reduce dependence on oil and coal to stop global warming. This issue was barely behind the issue of healthcare.

The poll also found that Americans long for leadership in the U.S. and they long to see the U.S. as a leader in the development and use of clean energy technologies. To answer this call the Center for American Progress Action Fund advocates policies to boost investments in clean, alternative technologies, such as wind and solar power, spur biofuels production, and encourage auto companies to build hybrids in return for healthcare cost relief.

In addition, we favor clean energy workforce training programs that will groom displaced workers and other at risk people to build and operate the clean energy technologies of the future. Many of these ideas are reflected in the Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act sponsored by Senators Jeff Bingaman and Pete Domenici.

Other policies such as renewable electricity standard will become amendments to the bill during the debate on it, likely to begin this week.

We look to the Senate to find common ground on these issues. A major reason that the Senate will finally address clean energy and global warming is due to the leadership of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Throughout his 20 years in the Senate and four years in the House energy and the environment have been at the top of his to do list. Senator Reid fought the Bush administration's effort to dismantle the Clean Air Act's New Source Review provisions. He has consistently supported efforts to enact fair and stable federal tax policies and appropriation levels to expand renewable energy. He helped extend the Renewable Energy Production Tax Credit through the end of 2008. On the first day of the 110th Congress he introduced the National Energy and Environmental Security Act to reduce our nation's dependence on foreign and unsustainable energy sources and eliminate price gouging and manipulation of our energy supplies.

Senator, we are very pleased to have you here today to speak to us on a very important matter which the Senate will turn to this week. Thank you so much for joining us.

Sen. Harry Reid: Carol, thank you very much. You've done a great job. You have a tremendous history of helping the country as director of the Environmental Protection Agency. But, for me personally, the work that you did there was so important for the state of Nevada, the state of California, because the work you did, along with President Clinton and [Vice] President Gore, in arranging our first summit, which we'll have the 10th anniversary this August, has led to saving that beautiful treasure that we share with California.

As Mark Twain said, "It's the fairest place in all the earth." And since those 10 years have passed we've actually returned the clarity of the lake at least headed in the right direction. So thank you very much Carol, for all you do, for all you have done for our country, will do for our country, and especially what you did for America's treasure, Lake Tahoe.

My staff told me to make sure that I stayed away from presidential politics today, and I'm going to do that. I've learned one thing in listening to all the debates and reading about all these people running for office. And the one fact that I've learned I can't get out of my mind is that Rudy Giuliani has been married more times than Mitt Romney has been hunting.

Thank you, Center for American Progress, for inviting me here to talk about one of the great challenges of our time. CAP is a think tank, but CAP is really about putting ideas into action, and that exactly is what we need to start doing when it comes to our national energy policy.

In 1931 two great Americans met to discuss the major innovation of that day, the automobile. During that meeting Thomas Edison had some advice for Henry Ford, whose cars were driving up the demand for gasoline. Edison told Ford, "I'd put my money in the soot. I'd put my money on the sun and solar energy. What a source of power! I hope we don't have to wait until oil and coal run out before we tackle that."

Now, 76 years later, America consumes 21 million barrels of oil every single day. Think about it for a minute, 21 million barrels of oil. That's enough oil to fill a pool that's 10 feet deep and 200 football fields long or a pool that's 11 miles long and 10 feet deep, 21 million barrels of oil every day. And most of it comes from unstable regions of the world. Our addiction to oil has grown into a three-pronged crisis: threatening our economy, threatening our national security, and threatening our environment.

But as this crisis grows worse it's nothing but business as usual from President Bush. Maybe this president thinks it's fine that working families are busting their budgets just to pay for gasoline and heat, but we don't. Maybe this president thinks it's fine to let unstable countries dictate our foreign policy because they hold the oil that we can't live without, but we don't. Maybe this president thinks it's fine to let our children and grandchildren faced the devastating consequences up our climate crisis because he didn't have the foresight to turn the tide, but we don't. And maybe this president thinks it's fine to invite oil companies to write national energy policy at secret White House meetings, but we don't. He may be fine with that approach to energy, but I'm not, the Democrats are not, and neither are the American people.

At the G8 summit last week President Bush's so-called bold approach to global warming was to give the issue serious consideration, but that was in the future. Or, in other words, ignore it. The time for meetings, more meetings, and more blue ribbon panels is long past. It's time for action, time for bold steps, and big ideas. It's time for innovation. We're not getting it from the White House, but that won't stop us because innovation is exactly what Americans do best.

The Democratic energy plan is all about harnessing power, the clean renewable power that exists, literally, all around us and the power of ingenuity that we have always called upon to solve our toughest problems that exists, literally, all around us. Our starting point is a bill we'll debate this week. Our bill promotes energy efficiency, drives investment in clean, alternative fuels. It sets new green standards for federal buildings and protects consumers from punishing price gougers.

Shouldn't we punish price gougers? Of course. After six-and-a-half years of the Bush presidency our bill puts the common good ahead of corporate greed. On the President's watch, the cost of gas and home heating has doubled. Every American is feeling that pain, with less to save for retirement, college, or health care. And no surprise, working families are getting hit the hardest.

Democrats in Congress just enacted an increase in the minimum wage that's 10 years overdue. We passed it, and I'm proud we did that. But we couldn't possibly raise the minimum wage high enough to keep up with these energy prices. When you're paying $3.30 a gallon for your daily commute, you've already spent a good portion of your paycheck by the time you get to work. Yet while the American people are forced to dig deeper, big oil is digging deeper into our pockets. They're bringing in record profits.

Remember the $400 million golden parachute given to the former CEO of Exxon? That's only one example. There's nothing wrong with companies making money. But there's everything wrong with manipulating energy supplies to keep prices artificially high. There's everything wrong with neglecting to reinvest a fair portion of those record profits in refinery capacity to increase supply. And there's everything wrong with refusing to seek or promote cleaner alternatives that could create jobs here in America and clean up the environment.

This Democratic Congress will not hesitate to take action when energy companies gouge the American people. But this energy crisis is certainly not limited to our shores.

Last year, Americans sent $300 billion to buy oil from countries like Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Our relationship with many of these countries is shaky at best. And it's a safe bet that some of the $300 billion found its way to people and groups that seek to do us harm. Our oil addiction gives economic, military and political leverage to these countries at a time when we need every possible chip to address the threats they present.

When the President of Venezuela calls our country a menace and constantly attacks our way of life, shouldn't we be able to tell him to keep his oil? Right now, we can't and we don't, because we need that oil and that ties our hands. If that's not the sign of a dangerous addiction, I don't know what is.

Yet for all of President Bush's tough talk about fighting the global war on terror, he has been dangerously silent about the role that oil plays in our national security. And with his foreign policy blunders fueling the flames of instability in the Middle East every day, our need for clean and sustainable energy right here at home couldn't be clearer every day. The third wobbly leg of our energy crisis affects us both at home and throughout the world.

No reasonable person continues to doubt that global warming is real and that humans are in large part responsible. But it took President Bush six-and-a-half years to even utter the words global warming. The best scientists in the world are telling us we only have 10 to 15 years to begin to dramatically reduce carbon emissions. That means starting now, not 2012 or later as the President suggests, but right now.

Countries across the globe have shown that they're up to the challenge. Major corporations here in America are signing on, as are many state governments. They are facing reality and finding creative ways to turn it into opportunity. Science has been ignored on the federal level for too long. But that time is over.

As I said, this week the Senate will debate our energy bill. As the ancient Chinese proverb says, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." Our bill takes several steps, but for the first time in 30 years, it raises CAFE standards for new cars and trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with another 4 percent improvement every year thereafter. I know that the auto industry is still wavering on this issue.

I met with the CEOs of the big three automakers last week and here's what I told them, the debate on raising CAFE standards should be over. It will happen. And perhaps if they had joined us instead of fighting us for the last 20 years, they might not be in the financial mess they're in today. But now is their chance to do the right thing, both for their bottom line and for the American people. And if President Bush is truly serious about raising CAFE he'll help us pass this bill.

The next part of our bill reduces crude oil consumption by more than 10 percent over the next 15 years by producing more renewable fuels right here on American farms, fields and forests. When we do this, we will also create tens of thousands of new American jobs.

Last week I passed through Palm Springs, California, and everywhere I looked I saw hundreds and hundreds of wind mills producing clean renewable energy. These windmills create hundreds of construction and hundreds of permanent jobs and produce enough electricity to power thousands of homes. That's the kind of innovation we should be investing in everywhere.

The next part of our bill sets new energy and efficiency standards for lighting, appliances and water use, which will be regularly updated. That's going to save half a trillion gallons of water every year.

Because government should lead by example, our bill also dramatically improves the energy efficiency of federal buildings and vehicles, which will also save billions of your tax dollars.

Our bill protects consumers by punishing companies that price gouge or manipulate supply to pad their profits. It provides research funds for carbon capture and storage, a new technology will prevent carbon emissions from existing power sources from ever polluting the air. And for the first time, it directs the president and his Cabinet to improve diplomatic relations with our energy partners in order to give us more leverage in the global energy market.

Altogether, our bill will save American consumers tens of billions of dollars annually, cut our oil consumption by more than 4 million barrels per day and reduce our dependence on foreign energy sources right away. And by the way, we might just save the planet while we're at it.

But as I said, this bill is just the first step. It is our roadmap, not our destination.

Our bill funds important research, but we want to do far more. We want to start giving consumers more choices by investing in biofuels, renewable electricity, solar power and technologies not yet imagined. Thirty-five miles-per-gallon fuel standards should just be the beginning. And why do our cars need to run on fossil fuels at all? We need future generations of Americans and their cars to run on renewable fuels and electricity grown right here in America. Increasing energy efficiency is the single largest source of energy we can tap without breaking a sweat.

In the future, we need to build homes and office buildings that consume little or no net energy. We need to change the tax code and government regulations to reward energy efficiency, rather than energy consumption. And we need all this new energy to come from sources that you or I wouldn't mind having in our own backyards.

The kind of future I describe won't be easy to achieve. But I know two things for sure, the trail will be blazed by America's next titans of innovation and their path will be lit by the support and investment of a determined federal government. We're seeing the first part already.

Scientists, states, and venture capitalists are starting to work together. They're realizing, as countries like Japan, Germany and Brazil already know, that tremendous opportunity lies ahead. Those who develop the clean, safe and efficient energy of the future will reap enormous rewards.

It's time for our federal government to not just catch up, but to take the lead and that won't be easy. But as great as the challenges may seem, history tells us that we can and will succeed.

In 1878 Thomas Alva Edison perfected the light bulb and the world was illuminated. In 1908 Henry Ford introduced the Model T and Americans took to the roads. In 1961, President Kennedy challenged us to put a man on the moon and eight years later our frontiers were forever expanded. If we could turn darkness into light, and we did, surely today we can use that light more efficiently. If we could build an automobile that connected millions of travelers, and we did, surely today we can build one that runs on renewable power. If we could send a man to the moon and bring him home safely, and we did, surely today we can protect our own planet for generations to come. If anyone doubts America's ability to meet this next great challenge, they don't know America.

Today we must return to our endless well of ingenuity and we must turn to the endless sources of renewable energy all around us. To set a new course that will keep our country safe and grow our economy and protect the planet that we call home.

Thank you very, very, much.

Carol Browner: Thank you Senator, and let me thank you for all of your leadership again on this and for bringing this bill to the floor. It is a first step. It is an incredibly important step and we thank you for that. Again, we need your cards if you would like to ask a question. I think someone will be coming through and while we collect the cards let me start with a question if you don't mind. The provisions in this bill are incredible. I mean everything from renewable portfolio standards to CAFE, what will be the most controversial part of the debate?

Sen. Harry Reid: CAFE standards. It's an issue that we've tried We have nine new Democratic senators and we're hoping, as a result of that, that we'll be able to get enough votes to put us over the hump. Keep in mind, the bill that's coming before the Senate is a bipartisan bill. What I did is part of the bill is what was reported out of the Energy Committee, part of the bill is the CAFE standards that was reported out of the Commerce Committee, and part of the bill is what was reported out of the Environment and Public Works Committee, all of them on a bipartisan basis. Now, I've been told the Republicans are going to oppose the motion to proceed, to allow us to even debate on this. We'll see. Hopefully, there will be enough people to allow us to proceed. It's a bipartisan bill I repeat. CAFE standards is one of the bipartisan provisions of this bill and it would be so important for our country. As I said in the speech, 35 miles is not very aggressive, but certainly it's good. It also includes trucks as you noticed, rather than just cars.

Carol Browner: We have a lot of questions here. One in them is do you think the President ...

Sen. Harry Reid: And those we don't have time to answer I'll be happy to take them and if somebody's name's here, I'll make sure we respond to them.

Carol Browner: Great, great. Do you think the President will veto the bill?

Sen. Harry Reid: I'm not nearly as worried about his vetoing the bill as our passing it. I think if we're able to get a bill out of the House, we'll certainly do it. We'll go to conference and I think that the President, he's not much of a vetoer. He's only vetoed stem cell and the timelines for ROC, but he may be trying to flex his muscles the last few months in office. If he did, it would just be a further blight on his presidency.

Carol Browner: Do you expect McCain Lieberman to offer their climate change cap and trade bill?

Sen. Harry Reid: No, I don't think so. I want to do a global warming bill, a climate change bill and I hope that we can do that in the foreseeable future. This is a little different, what we're trying to do here. This, of course, will help global warming, but I think we need a more massive approach to global warming. And I don't think this debate should be tied up on which global warming provision or bill is the best.

Carol Browner: I have a number of questions about carbon sequestration. And maybe you can talk a little bit about what the bill will do in those regards.

Sen. Harry Reid: Well, it's a start. It's not what everyone wants, but it's a start and I think it's a good start. That's the best we could get out of the Energy Committee and I think there will be efforts made to increase what we have in the bill.

Carol Browner: We have a question, how will the bill work in concert with the energy title of the farm bill?

Sen. Harry Reid: That's still a work in progress, the farm bill. I've spoken to Senator Harkin, who is the chairman of that committee. We hope to be able to take that up next month, but I'm not sure the committee is going to be ready. But every place I want this weekend people are concerned about Wyoming. They're concerned about ethanol. They're having trouble finding things for their animals to eat. And, as you know, one of the articles in one of the newspapers in the last week or two, was some of the pig farmers are feeding cookies and popcorn and stuff they can buy that's cheaper than corn because there's such a shortage of grains. So that's one of the reasons we have looked very closely at other ways of producing products that can be turned into ethanol. And this is all a very important step. Ethanol is important, it's really helped a lot, but that needs a lot of work.

Carol Browner: We have a number of questions about the green building provisions and maybe you can talk a little bit about that and about the federal components.

Sen. Harry Reid: Senator Boxer is very happy with this provision because I think what's surprising to all of us is the pollution that's caused from buildings. And this is a tremendous step forward. Also, as I noted, we're going to take a look at our federal fleet. We're the largest user of automobiles in the country. Certainly we should do something to make our vehicles more energy efficient. So Chairman Boxer did a great job with her provision on buildings and it's a tremendously important step in the right direction.

Carol Browner: And let me ask you a final question, but before I do that I do want to recognize John Podesta, who has joined us, the president of the Center for American Progress and a leading thinker on energy policy. Final question, how long do you anticipate the Senate will be focused on this bill?

Sen. Harry Reid: Well, it's according to when we get on it. I would hope we could get on it today. It'll be very difficult to finish it in one day, but we have three weeks during this work period. We've got to finish the Defense Authorization Bill also, so we can get back in talking about Iraq, certainly necessary. But we're going to do our best to finish this bill. The Republicans, Senator McConnell, on the immigration bill, gave a number of speeches about how many times that I've invoked closure, filed closure petitions. He failed to mention that we have to do that because we are not able to do anything without closure. On the most basic bills we did, lobbying ethics reform, minimum wage, 9/11, CR, everything that we've had to do, we have to get 60 votes first. So they made it very difficult for us, but we feel very good. I had a meeting with Leader Pelosi last week and we each had 10 things. We are in agreement with what the 10 most important things are and we're moving down the list getting them done. We've, course, done stem cell. We've done minimum wage. 9/11 should be done in the next week or so. Lobbying reform should be done in the next week or so, if we can get this energy bill done. So, in spite of the Republicans trying to block everything we do, we've made great progress.

Carol Browner: Well, again, thank you very much.

Sen. Harry Reid: Is this my homework?

Carol Browner: There's your homework. And on behalf of the center, let me thank you for joining us here today and for making this very important speech. And to all of you, we thank you for joining us.

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