"Dorgan Supports Climate Legislation So Long As It Doesn’t Address Climate Change"
Speaking on the Senate floor this morning, Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-ND) responded to criticism that he does not support climate change legislation. Dorgan reiterated his opposition to the creation of a carbon market with a cap-and-trade system to limit global warming pollution. He aggressively dismissed the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), the clean energy and climate legislation supported by President Obama and passed by the House in June. Arguing that the energy legislation crafted by the Senate Energy Committee “takes significant steps towards addressing climate,” Dorgan calls for its passage “and then at some point later bringing a climate change bill to the floor”:
I hope very much when people think about energy and climate change, that a consideration will exist of bringing a good energy bill to the floor that is a significant step in the right direction for climate change. And then at some point later bringing a climate change bill to the floor, because I think they are related but separate. And I think it would be much smarter to get the value and the success of an energy bill that’s now out of the committee and ready to be dealt with by the Senate at some point very soon.
Dorgan’s belief that energy and climate policy are “separate” mirrors the argument made by House Agriculture chair Collin Peterson (D-MN) that “mixing climate change together with energy independence” isn’t smart. In fact, reforming our broken energy policy requires recognition that the entire lifecycle of energy use matters.
Worse, however, is Dorgan’s claim that the legislation the Senate energy committee approved — the American Clean Energy Leadership Act (ACELA) — is a “giant way towards addressing climate change.” This is simply untrue. As Center for American Progress Action Fund John Podesta has described, the Senate bill is “weak, toothless, and unacceptable.”
The Senate bill has a ineffectual renewable electricity standard — which Dorgan seemed to recognize when he said it should be raised to match the level in ACES — in addition to expanded subsidies for nuclear, coal, and the oil and gas industries. In no way would its passage begin to reduce the global warming pollution of the United States, the essence of a “climate bill.”
Dorgan also pledged his allegiance to coal, which he calls “our most abundant resource,” despite it being — unlike the wind, sun, and tides — a finite fossil fuel. This year alone, Dorgan has received $225,910 from coal-powered electric utilities and is the number two recipient of coal mining cash in the Senate.
DORGAN: Mr. President, most of us spend all of our day having a better day because of energy and think very little about it. Get up in the morning perhaps and use an electric razor or perhaps an electric toothbrush, go to the kitchen and have some coffee that was made by plugging the coffee maker in, or turning on a stove. Then get in the car and put a key in the ignition and start an engine, and off to work. All the while using all that energy has available to us all day long, never thinking much about it.
Now, we have a serious energy problem in this country in that a substantial amount of the energy that we use, particularly oil, comes from outside of our country. Some of it from countries that don’t like us very much. And so we are about 70% dependent on foreign countries for our oil. And as I indicated, some of those countries are countries in some difficulty and turmoil. Some of them don’t like us much at all. And yet, we’re unbelievably dependent on them.
One of the propositions is should we have more conservation in this country? Shouldn’t we have a plan that makes us less vulnerable and less dependent and improves our energy security and national security? The answer to that is yes.
This is a big old planet of ours, and we stick straws in the planet and suck oil out. Now today — today is a Tuesday — we will take out from these drilling rigs and the pumps and so on where we’ve discovered oil, we’ll take out about 85 million barrels of oil from under the earth. And one-fourth of it needs to be used in this country. We need one-fourth of all the oil that’s produced in the world today. And as I said, 70% of that oil comes from outside of our country. And about 70% of the oil that we use in this country is used in our transportation system.
We have a very serious dependency on oil. It makes us less secure nationally. It creates all kinds of issues. And so the question is what do we do about that? And that’s what I want to talk about for a few minutes. I want to talk about it in the context of some news reports that have said recently that I and several others somehow did not support climate change legislation.
Let me make clear what my position is.
I have said on the floor of the Senate, I don’t support cap-and-trade, quote unquote, around trade. I don’t have any interest in supporting legislation that will consign to a $1 trillion carbon trading securities market, most of it on Wall Street, and having speculators and the big investment banks trading carbon securities on a Monday so we can determine how much energy prices are going to be for us on a Tuesday depending on how that trading went on Monday. I have no interest in doing that.
We’ve seen what happens to the price of gasoline and oil, for example, when the price of oil went from, I believe it was $40 a barrel to $148 a barrel in day trading one day, without — without — any notion of supply or demand changes that would justify the run-up over a number of months of the price of oil from $40 to $148 a barrel. So I’ve already seen these markets. I’ve seen the markets with respect to derivatives and swaps and all the exotic instruments created to be traded on these markets.
I have no interest in the — quote — “trade” portion of cap-and-trade and will not be intending to support that. There are other ways for us to have a lower carbon future.
I do believe that there’s something happening to our climate that we should be attentive to. I do believe a series of no-regret steps at the very least make a lot of sense as we begin to address them. Let me just say that while I have said I do not intend to be supportive of the cap-and-trade approach, especially with quotes around trade, I think there are some things we can, will, and must do to address the issue of climate change and having a lower carbon future.
Having said that, let me say that my hope is that the legislation that we have written already, already passed through the energy committee in this Congress, will be brought to the floor for a debate because it takes significant steps towards addressing climate change. But most importantly, it will reduce our dependence on foreign oil and create, therefore, more national security and more energy security for our country by producing more american energy and by incentivizing the kinds of things that conserve, save and create other forms of energy as well.
Let me talk just for a bit about this bill, because some people say, well, we have to bring an energy bill to the floor combined with a climate change bill. I don’t believe that. I think it would be much smarter, in my judgment, to bring an energy bill to the floor that is already completed in the committee, passed out of the committee with a bipartisan vote.
It’s called the American Clean Energy Leadership Act. Bring that to the floor, debate it, pass it, get it to the president for his signature, and do something very significant for our country’s energy future. And then turn, when we have completed that, because that bill itself moves in the direction of climate change and addressing climate change, then turn to the issue of a climate change bill and how we create a lower carbon future.
So here’s what’s in the legislation that we have passed through the energy committee that I hope we will bring to the floor of the United States Senate first. Renewable energy standard. You know, there’s an old saying that if you don’t care where you’re going, you’re never going to be lost. Well, that’s certainly true for a country and a Congress. If you don’t establish standards and say here’s where we aspire to be, here’s what we aspire to achieve, you never know whether you’ve met it or not. A renewable energy standard, for example, of 15% or 20% — the bill has 15%. When we get it to the floor my hope would be we have a 20% combined renewable energy standard which says we aspire to achieve this level by a certain date. Renewable energy standard, the first one in the history of this country at the federal level. Some states have already taken action in this area. but we need a national standard that creates the goal of what we aspire to achieve.
So, a national renewable energy standard, that’s what I’m talking about. That’s in this bill. We could bring that to the floor. That drives additional production of renewable energy. It’s exactly what you need to do in terms of addressing climate change. Wind energy, solar energy, biomass. It’s exactly what this country needs to do. And what we do is we incentivize that additional production.
Energy efficiency. The lowest-hanging fruit by far in energy is to make our buildings more efficient. The Mackenzie studies shows the whole grid of production and conservation, and by far the least cost, most effective, instant way to address energy is building efficiencies. And the efficiencies of our buildings, our home, equipment, appliances, our factories are dealt with in this legislation, promoting much greater movement towards achieving the conservation that comes from billing efficiency. That’s in this bill.
Another thing that’s in this bill is building an interstate highway system of transmission capability. because we can produce a lot of new renewable energy, but if we don’t move it from where it is produced to where it is needed to the load centers, it won’t have done much good to produce it. My home state — North Dakota is number one in wind. The folks at the department of energy call north dakota the Saudi Arabia of wind. We’re almost born leaning to the north west against that prevailing wind. We have a lot of wind. The fact is we don’t need wind power in our state. We’ve got all the power we need.
What we need to do is maximize the production of wind power and move it to the load centers. In order to do that you need a national interstate highway of transmission capability. We’re not able to build it. This legislation will trigger the opportunity to do that. now, we have built 11,000 miles of natural gas pipeline in the last nine years across this country. 11,000 miles to haul natural gas through pipes around this country. During this same period of time, we have built less than 660 miles of high-voltage interstate transmission lines. Why? Because when under the current rules, it is very hard to build it. You almost can’t get it done.
So, this legislation has a transmission piece that I helped write. It gives us the opportunity to say, we’re going to maximize the development of renewable energy, wind energy up through the heartland, solar energy in the south and southwest and be able to produce it where you can produce it and move it to the load centers because we will have an interstate system which we do not have. That would be the huge boost to this country’s energy future and also a significant step towards climate change by allowing the development of clean energy, green energy, wind energy, solar energy, biomass and more.
Now, Mr. President, the bill also includes reducing our dependence on foreign oil by transforming our transportation system. We’re headed towards plug-in vehicles, electrifying the short-haul transportation system is the best way to reduce the role that foreign oil plays in our economy. By electrifying our cars at the same time as we decarbonize electric generation, which I’m going to talk about in just a minute, we not only cut our dependence on foreign oil, but we at the same time address climate change. Plug-in hybrid vehicles, I think, are a bridge to the electric future, integrating the electric motor with gasoline engine. all of this is trying to aspire for a new direction for our country.
I want to say, the most abundant resource we have is coal, and this legislation also addresses the use of coal. Some say, well, it shouldn’t be used in the future. I disagree completely. It is our most abundant resource. What we do is in this bill, we facilitate large-scale demonstration and deployment of carbon capture and storage technology so that we can continue to use coal while capturing the carbon and I either hope through beneficial use, using the carbon for other products or sequestering it. But we can continue to use our most abundant resource and we facilitate those necessary demonstration projects in this legislation.
I might also say that legislation is going to be helpful to hydrogen and fuel cells in the future, which I am a strong supporter of. I believe that’s another generation that we need to work on with respect to the research.
And finally, let me say, I offered an amendment during the energy deliberations on this bill that opens the eastern Gulf of Mexico, including the Dustin Dome for oil and gas development. In other words, I believe we ought to do a lot of everything. Yes, we should develop more, produce more. Yes, oil and natural gas. Yes, find a way to produce coal in a manner that protects our environment, and we will. We should conserve more and save more. We should do all of those things.
But in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, there’s about 3.8 billion barrels of oil and about 21 trillion, 22 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. It makes no sense that we are so unbelievably and excessively dependent on foreign oil when we are not producing that which we have in our country. And we should do all of that, mindful of the environment, mindful of all of the protections that are necessary. I understand that. so I offered the amendment that opens up the eastern gulf to the 45-mile buffer zone.
I didn’t offer the amendment, but I will when we get it to the floor, to allow our oil companies as well to compete for production capability in the Cuban waters. The country of Cuba is now interested in leasing oil and gas. So the Spanish are there, the Canadians are there, India is there, China is interested, but our companies are prohibited because of an unbelievable 50-year embargo against the country of Cuba, a 50-year embargo that has been almost farcical in terms of its failure. But we are told, it’s all right for everybody else to go there. We’re told there’s about a half a million barrels a day in those waters, after the production.
And there’s nobody in the country — in the world, i should say — there’s no one in the world that’s better at the kind of ultra — or unconventional deep water drilling than America. We’ve done the research. We’ve done the work to understand that we do that better than anybody else in the world. Yet we are told that our companies are not able to compete for those leases in those Cuban waters. That makes no sense at all.
I think we should do a lot of everything and do it well. and especially as we do a lot of everything — whether it’s conservation or other related issues, producing more, conserving more — as we do that and driving the maximizing of renewable energy, we will step in a giant way towards addressing climate change. It is exactly what we should do.
Now, we are told, well, you have to bring Waxman-Markey or you have to do this or that. What we have to do, it seems to me, is to be smart. And the smart thing, in my judgment, would be a-to-take the legislation that the United States Senate energy committee has produced that does all of the things I’ve just described, almost all of which contribute in a very positive way to addressing a lower carbon future, and all of which address the issue of greater energy security and greater national security by making us less dependent on foreign oil and making us more dependent on American-produced energy.
I mean, why would we not want to have a much greater focus on American energy produced here in this country? And why would we not want to have a much more significant focus on developing national aspirations for what we want to do with renewable energy? You know, it’s just this okay, we kind of walk around and say, well, whatever happens happens. The fact is we can’t consign our future to that.
Now, I have spoken, I suppose, a dozen times on the floor. And let me do again what I’ve done before and say just — just so quickly, that my first car as a very young boy was one my father found in a granary in an old abandoned farm in North Dakota, and I bought it from the guy who put it in that granary for $25. It was a 1924 Model-T Ford, completely rusty, with no wires, no seat covers. All it was was a bunch of metal and a bunch of ruvment as a young boy I lovingly restored an old Model-T. What I discovered when I got it all running, you put gasoline in that Model-T, the same way you put gasoline in a 2009 car. Everything else — everything has changed except that. Cars are computerized. Everything has changed about vehicles, but you still pull up to a gas tank, pull the gas cap off and put gas in a Model-T just like you do in a brand-spangled new Ford. It shows how mired we are in our previous energy policies.
The energy bill that we have passed in the energy committee gets us out of this rut, makes us more secure, strengthens our country, makes us less dependent on others, particularly less dependent on those who don’t like us very much for our energy future. One final point: some several years ago there was a blackout on the East Coast, just like that, all the electricity was gone. And at that moment, almost everyone had to understand what energy meant to them. And we understood its connection to our daily lives. It’s unbelievable. and so the question of reliability of energy for our country, the question of where do we get it, how do we get it, what’s it cost, what does it mean to our climate — all of those are important, interesting, and in some cases important questions.
I hope very much as people start thinking of and talking after whatever happens on health care happens — I hope very much when people think about energy and climate change that a consideration will exist of bringing a good energy bill to the floor that is a significant step in the right direction for climate change and then at some point later bringing a climate change bill to the floor because I think they are related but separate. And I think it would be much smarter to get the value and the success of an energy bill that’s now out of the committee and ready to be dealt with by the Senate at some point very soon.
Mr. President, I yield the floor and make a point that a quorum is not present.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) today said the Senate may not act on comprehensive energy and climate change legislation until next year, given the chamber’s busy fall schedule.
Speaking to reporters about the possibility of taking up the bill this fall, Reid said the Senate must first finish work on health care and regulatory reform.
“So, you know, we are going to have a busy, busy time the rest of this year,” Reid said. “And, of course, nothing terminates at the end of this year. We still have next year to complete things if we have to.”