State of the Union

Senate and House lawmakers react to President Bush's address

Increasing America's energy supply through technology and decreasing the United States' gas use by 20 percent over the next 10 years were among the energy proposals the president made in his 2007 State of the Union address. But do these proposals go far enough and will the Democratic majority need to water-down its legislation to ensure passage? During today's E&ETV State of the Union Coverage, Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), Rep. Tom Allen (D-Maine), and others comment on the details of the speech and discuss whether or not, based on what the president laid out in his speech, Congress will be successful in passing energy and environment legislation.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to E&ETV's coverage of the State of the Union 2007. I'm Monica Trauzzi. Tonight the president proposed a decreasing the U.S.'s gas consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years. He also emphasized technology as a way to increase our energy independence. But do his proposals go far enough and will a Democrat led Congress allow his plans to go through? We spoke to Republicans and Democrats immediately following the speech and here's what they had to say. The president spoke tonight about increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars. Do you think that this is something that he and the Congress are going to be able to reach common ground on?

Sen. Maria Cantwell: Well, I think the president's proposal was to reduce consumption of gasoline by 20 percent over the next 10 years. And a percentage of that, 5 percent of that was to come from fuel efficiencies from automobiles. Now I think there's good support in Congress for fuel efficiency. I think the president though was saying, well, I want to do what we did for light trucks. And light trucks was a very minimal approach, I think 3 percent savings. And so I think Congress wants to be more aggressive than that. Now whether we can get good bipartisan legislation on to his desk ... that is the proposal that we want. I mean we want to have a 10 percent reduction in the next 10 years, 10 percent more efficient. And what we're going to strive to do is pass legislation out of the Senate that would meet that goal. I think there are challenges to doing it. And we want to see the president's budget. Is he going to put the necessary research dollars and the incentives for those alternative fuels? I mean part of it is how level of a playing field do you have if you continue to incent the fossil fuel industry and give them tax breaks and royalties? And it's a very mature industry, and yet this nascent industry, you only give tax credits for two years. So there'll be a lot of truth to see in this when the President comes out with his proposal.

Monica Trauzzi: What about global warming? He didn't say much about it tonight. Was that a disappointment for you?

Sen. Maria Cantwell: Well, I think under this administration, even though he mentions these things in the State of the Union, we've become more dependent on foreign oil and we obviously have more carbon dioxide emissions. And the United States has a great opportunity, not only to solve this issue within the United States, but to be a leader on clean energy technology. And obviously, look at the markets that we could have in China or in other countries where the pollution is even greater than ours. So we know that that global pollution affects us right here at home because of the atmosphere and what those pollutants are doing to the atmosphere. So the president could have been much, much more aggressive on this. And I think what you're going to see is a Congress working in the House and Senate in a bipartisan fashion. We are going to send energy legislation to the president's desk. And the question remains, is he going to sign that legislation? We've got an idea of where he might go on alternative fuels, but where is he going to go on the issue of global warming, on these tax breaks to the oil industry, on making the federal fleet more efficient, and obviously protecting consumers in the meantime?

Rep. Tom Allen: Well, I thought the speech tonight was less specific and more thematic than in the past. And, of course, that's one area, in contrast to Iraq and health care where I think we can do some good work together. You know, when he talked about alternative fuels and new technologies, no one disagrees with that. If we can expand the use of ethanol in our vehicles, that's a good thing. But I didn't hear him provide us any real detail on how to upgrade the standards for vehicles. And I certainly didn't hear anything on a cap-and-trade system for coal-fired power plants, which I think is a necessary precondition to dealing with climate change. So it was a good speech, but there weren't many details for us to latch onto.

Monica Trauzzi: Was that a disappointment for you that he didn't go into depth about climate change and really talk about global warming?

Rep. Tom Allen: Well, elections matter and I think he reached these themes in part because of the Democratic victories last November. So it feels as if he now recognizes we have to talk about climate change, we have to do more about energy efficiency. So he came a step or two that way without much detail because he knows that we want to go considerably further. But at least this feels like an area to me where we may make some progress together. It's a question of how far we can bring the administration along.

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett: I was pleased that he talked about energy. It was a bit more, just a bit more than one-twelfth of what he talked about. I think the challenge we face is enormously larger than the program that he outlined. Our country reaches maximum oil production in 1970. The same scientists who predicted that predict the world will be reaching its maximum oil production about now. If that's true, as said in the Hersh report, the SAIC report, the Corps of Engineers, we face a horrendous problem. And I think we need a program that has the total commitment of World War II, the technology focus of putting a man on the moon, and the urgency of the Manhattan Project. What the president proposed was nice, but it's not adequate to a program. If I'm right, and if M. King Hubbard was right, then that's just not adequate to the challenge we face.

Monica Trauzzi: Is he starting to take those steps? Tonight he spoke about increasing technology, increasing use of alternatives, decreasing our gas consumption by 20 percent over the next 10 years. Is he taking steps in the right direction?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett: If he meant reducing gas consumption by replacing it with ethanol, every gallon of ethanol you burn represents at least three-fourths of a gallon of fossil fuel. So if you reduced your gasoline used by displacing it with ethanol by 20 percent, you've displaced the use of fossil fuels only 5 percent. As a matter of fact, some scientists believe we use more energy producing ethanol than we get out of it. I hope that's not true, but we really need a definitive study to determine what's true. But it is certain that if you're really good at producing ethanol, corn ethanol, you'll do better with sugarcane ethanol, but with corn ethanol it takes at least three-fourths of a gallon of fossil fuel to produce 1 gallon of ethanol. So you're really just reprocessing fossil fuel. Yeah, we need to do that, but we need to do a lot of other things too. It was very nice. It's a little step. We needed to be taking some big steps and we need to be running, not just crawling.

Monica Trauzzi: What about climate change?

Rep. Roscoe Bartlett: Climate change, just mentioning it is significant. When he said we were hooked on oil, that's been quoted 10,000 times since then. That wasn't a very long statement that had a huge impact. The president has a really big bully pulpit. What he says really has impact. I think just mentioning climate change is important. He recognizes that we could be contributing to climate change. I think we are.

Rep. Cathy McMorris: And he laid out some goals, which I think is very important. I think we, as a country need to be clear in saying these are our goals. This is how we believe we can achieve energy independence and start making it happen.

Monica Trauzzi: And one of his goals is to reduce our gas consumption by 20 percent in 10 years.

Rep. Cathy McMorris: Yes.

Monica Trauzzi: Is that feasible though?

Rep. Cathy McMorris: I hope so. I think we need to have everything on the table. It needs to be a comprehensive approach to meeting our energy needs. We've been talking about it, but we haven't been making it happen. And it's important, not only to our own domestic economy, but to our national security region. We need to make it a priority. There's some exciting technologies. Even in eastern Washington I know about fuel cells and wind generation, the biodiesel efforts. There's so many exciting technologies, and we just need to make them more of a priority in my opinion. I was pleased that he laid out a comprehensive approach because it's clear that not one thing is going to solve our energy challenges. It needs to be comprehensive. And from that perspective, I applaud him for putting everything on the table.

Monica Trauzzi: Tonight we have seen that the Democrats want more than what the president offered them. What remains to be seen is if the new Congress can meet the president halfway on energy and environment policy. For E&ETV, I'm Monica Trauzzi.

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