Energy Policy:

Dorgan outlines priorities for 111th Congress, talks about electric drive technology

What will the energy policy priorities of the next Congress be? How will electric vehicle technology incentives be incorporated into an overall energy package? During today's E&ETV Event Coverage of the Electric Drive Transportation Association's annual conference, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), a member of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee and chairman of the Energy Subcommittee, lays out the key energy policy priorities of the incoming Congress. Dorgan addresses how electric drive technology incentives will be considered as part of a larger energy package.

Transcript

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.): Well, thank you very much. I was just looking at this distinguished panel. I don't know that I have a lot to add to what they will be able to tell you, but let me try to give you the perspective from the Congress at least.

And, in addition, perhaps complete my resume. This Congress, as you know, is a quilt work of America. We come from all corners and all types of regions in America.

And I come from a town of 300 people, in ranching country, of wheat country of southwestern North Dakota. I graduated in a senior high school class of nine students, the top five.

That qualified me to run for the Senate and so here I are. It is a great, great privilege to serve in the Congress and I am especially interested in a wide range of issues, but energy is something that's very important to me and to my state.

And I've worked on a wide range of energy issues and I'd like to talk just for a moment about them. But before I do, let me tell you, it is interesting that the solutions that we see to some of the problems in this country hearken back to old approaches.

I was thinking the other day about windmills. I was in Minot, North Dakota yesterday and we have two very large wind towers south of Minot that I actually got built there because I went to some air bases and asked eight air bases would you take green power if I put the money in your budget to pay for it?

And they said yes and so we built some wind towers to supply power to eight air bases. These two happen to serve the Minot Air Force Base. We actually name wind towers, Willie and Wally are actually standing south of Minot.

Willie has been sick for a while, but they are turning every day in the wind because we have more wind than any state in the nation. North Dakota is the Saudi Arabia have wind. So with those early towers we now have substantial development of wind power in North Dakota.

We rank fifth in the nation in the production of energy generally. We have the most active oil play of anywhere in the nation, the largest assessed recoverable reserves of oil that the U.S. Geological Survey has ever done.

It was just completed a year ago. It's called the Bakken Shale with 95 rigs drilling a new well every 30 days in the western part of North Dakota. So we have oil and gas. We have substantial coal reserves. We have wind energy.

We produce a greater variety of energy than virtually anywhere in the country. But I was thinking about wind, I mean that hearkens back to the old windmills a century ago when people were homesteading on the prairies.

And now we're building windmills essentially once again. Electric drive vehicles, electric drive vehicles are not new. In the year 1900, 25 percent of the vehicles, there weren't so many, but 25 percent of the vehicles that were produced that year were produced as electric drive vehicles.

So we now talk about back to the future. Why do we do that? Well, we have an energy crisis in this country. There's no question about that. We have about 3 percent of the known oil reserves on this planet.

We produce about 10 percent of the oil per year and we use about 20 to 25 percent. Well, that doesn't add up in any long period of time. And so a substantial portion of that which we use in oil comes from off our shores, from outside of our country, somewhere around 65 percent at the moment and growing rapidly.

In addition to having 65 percent of our oil coming from very troubled parts of the world in many cases, about 70 percent of that is used in transportation, that is through our vehicles.

So, you can see from those statistics that the use of oil and oil products in our vehicles is what drives the substantial demand. And we have been doing that for a long, long time.

Many of you have heard me say my first car was a 1924 Model T Ford. I was 16 years old. I bought it for $25 and it was just a piece of rust and I restored it like a young boy would and made it run.

And what I understood about that old 1924 Model T Ford was you put gasoline in it the same way you put gasoline in a 2008 Ford. Everything else about a moving vehicle has changed, but not the fact that you have to pull up to gas pump and put a hose in the tank.

And so, because we are so unbelievably dependent on foreign oil and because so much of it is used in our vehicle fleet, the obvious answer to less dependence, which is critically important to this country's long-term economic future, is change.

We've just had a presidential contest revolve around the word change. What this change mean with respect to energy? Does it mean that we just do the same old thing? We write a new energy bill and we keep thinking real man dig and drill?

All the rest of you are a bunch of kind of fluffy folks that have arm patches on and smoke pipes and ruminate about what life could be if only the world listened to you. That's the way it's always been, real man dig and drill.

Well, this change this year means we can't keep thinking the same way. We have to really make change in our vehicle fleets. So how do we do that? Well, I've been talking for a long time about hydrogen, hydrogen fuel cells for example.

I mean that's one approach out a ways. That's probably 2, 3, 4, 5 decades, who knows? But I think it's an interesting approach. But I think the change that is real is going to be a change towards electric drive vehicles, hybrids, electric drives.

I think that change is critically important if we're going to remove or at least relieve our excessive dependence on foreign oil. Now, how do we get to that point?

Well, when we write a piece of legislation, which we will do next year with a new president, that piece of legislation will be an energy bill that comes to the same intersection at the same time as climate change.

This is going to be the first time, I think, when we write an energy bill where it intersects with climate change. But understanding that means that when we write this bill we do need to manifest real change.

Now, I chair the subcommittee on appropriations that funds most of our energy issues. It's called the Energy and Water Subcommittee and Appropriations. My subcommittee spends about $33 billion or so.

And I fund for example battery research. I think we need to have dramatic new investments and substantial new research in battery technology. We ought to lead the world in that and we need to make quantum leaps in battery technology.

That is going to be necessary, it seems to me, in the long term for a flourishing electric drive industry. It doesn't mean we're not there and can't have that industry today, it just means that we need to make substantial progress.

How do we do that? It means investment. I put $100 million in my subcommittee in this year that's now awaiting final approval. It will be done, I think, by the second week in January.

There's another $300 million on battery research and technology that I have recommended be put in the stimulus package. And Senator and now President-elect Obama has been even more aggressive suggesting that we need to be very, very aggressive in research funding for battery technology.

Now, the obvious advantage to all of this, if we move towards electric drive, which I think we will and must, is that it gives us the opportunity to capture much more of the renewable energy that is available to us.

I had Boone Pickens, a man with whom I have substantial disagreements, but I had him come to Bismarck, North Dakota to an energy expo I held recently. We had about 1200 people show up. We talked about all forms of energy and all kinds of energy research and so on.

And I'm somebody who believes we ought to do it all. I believe we ought to drill. I mean I think we ought to conserve. I think we ought to be more efficient in the appliances and we ought to substantially move toward renewables.

What Boone Pickens has talked about with his plan makes a lot of sense to me. He says let's gather the wind energy that we're capable of gathering from Texas north to North Dakota in the heartland of America. Then let's grab the solar energy capability.

And by the way, we're behind in solar and should not be. There's no excuse for it. Let's grab the solar energy with substantial research across the South and Southwest.

But then, in order to make that work, you've got to have a superhighway of transmission capability. And I'm in the process of writing a piece of legislation that will begin to try to create that.

We built an interstate highway across America a long, long time ago when Dwight Eisenhower proposed it and funded it. We need to build a transmission superhighway in this country.

And we need it because you can't produce wind from Texas to North Dakota and solar across the Southwest and other forms of energy where it exists in the renewable form of energy unless you have some place to put it on a wire and move it where it's needed.

We don't need energy in North Dakota. We produce far more than we need at this point. So, if we're going to produce more, and we certainly have the capability, we need the transmission ability to move it. Our transmission infrastructure is a patchwork quilt of 75 year old technology.

We can do much better than that. Now, it will require some investment and it also requires some adroit and deft handling with respect to state and local governments and all the negotiation that has to occur with respect to how you get this thing built.

But we've got to start and we have to start now, because if you're going to do a substantial conversion to electric drive vehicles, which I think we must, then you have to have the capability in wind energy and renewable energy to accommodate it.

And so I'm a big believer in doing all that's necessary to make those investments and make sure that we have not only the vehicles produced, the demand for the vehicles by consumers who want them, the battery technology that makes those vehicles even more effective and more efficient, but that we also have the transmission capability to produce and move the renewable energy.

Now, as I speak, as I understand it, the three automobile executives are driving from Detroit to Washington, DC. I last heard they were in Bismarck heading west. It is probably not a laughing matter that they are driving here asking for help.

And I have to just ask the question whether any of you heard the secretary of the treasury or the chairman of the fed who have cast somewhere around $5 to $7 trillion of help to the financial services industry, whether they ask any of those folks to park their planes or drive to Washington, DC or forgo their bonuses or work for a dollar a year?

Not a whisper. It's unbelievable to me. Having said all that, the auto industry, if it's going to get some help from this town, it seems to me, has to present a plan. They are on their way here to present a plan and we'll see what that plan is.

And then see whether about 4 percent, which is what they're asking for, 4 percent of the $700 billion that Secretary Paulson says is exclusively reserved for the financial services industry might ought to go to try to support a manufacturing sector where there are a lot of jobs.

I don't know the response or the answer to that, but I think it will be a very important consideration when Congress meets beginning next Monday. We will, in my judgment, write an energy bill. I serve on the energy committee and we've had preparatory meetings.

That energy bill will almost inevitably include additional production requirements or incentives, additional and substantial incentives for conservation, substantial efforts for much greater efficiency in all the things that we use energy for and, finally, a much, much, much greater emphasis on renewable energy.

All of that, I think, is important for us to accommodate the change that I think is necessary. And that change has to, in large part, not exclusively, but in large part come in the auto sector where we are using almost 70 percent of the oil.

We must convert. And I think this is perhaps the first time that we have ever had an energy debate where there is an expressed and recognized urgency to convert. The price of gasoline, at $4.00 a gallon, was is causing an apoplectic seizure all across this country.

All of us understand that. Drive up to the pump and pull out 80 or $90 out of your wallet, that's a pretty big deal. Now the price of gas has gone down to $2.00 a gallon. No one knows why it went up, nobody knows why it went down.

I have my own theories, but in any event, there is no less urgency for the change we need at $2.00 a gallon than there was that $4.00 a gallon. And this Congress cannot take its eye off the ball. We need change and that change especially must come in the auto sector towards electric drive.

It must come to it in an accommodation with as well the production and transmission and distribution of the energy necessary to accommodate that change.

Now, let me say I finally I'm also going to be introducing legislation called The Secure America's Future Energy, which is a safe bill which has been drafted by a group of substantial executives, including Fred Smith, the CEO of FedEx, and P.X. Kelley, retired military general.

It's about energy security and using less energy intensity. And that will also include much of the same things I have just described. About three weeks ago I was at a nursing home in Grand Forks, North Dakota.

And I went there because a birthday party was held in August of this year and I was invited and was not able to attend. It was for a woman named Mary Schumacher and Mary is 110 years old.

I went to the nursing home to say hello to Mary and Mary, at 110 years old, my state's oldest citizen, was smart, sharp, bright, and had almost a perfect memory, pretty unbelievable.

Her niece was there when I showed up because her niece put on her birthday party in August. As I said, 110th birthday in August, her niece put on her party. Her niece was 103.

And her son, who said I'm not sure I can come when you come to the nursing home to see Mom because I'll be farming that Saturday , was 80, but he showed up.

And I asked Mary, about 110 years of age, she was born in 1898, and I asked her about the things that you see when you're 110 years old. She didn't watch television. She never saw a television set until she was in her mid-50s.

But I asked her especially about travel and cars because when she was born largely you took horses to town. And she told me about, you know, the old Model Ts and her entire life has been a life of the ability to become mobile as a result of vehicles. And we had a great discussion.

I'm wondering, maybe after seeing this woman whose entire lifespan stretches from the first vehicles to 2008, whether maybe this is the first time in that century, century plus, in which real change will it exist.

I hope so because I think our country's security, especially our energy security depends upon it. Thank you very much.

[End of Audio]

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