Remarks to the Council on Competitiveness’ National Energy Summit and International Dialogue
*** As Prepared for Delivery ***
"Good afternoon and thank you for that introduction. And thanks to the Council on Competitiveness for holding this summit. I appreciate the opportunity to spend a few minutes speaking with you about one of the most important debates of our time - the policies that we should pursue to strengthen our energy security and address climate change.
"The stakes of this debate are clear and extremely high. Throughout our history, access to abundant and affordable energy has helped ensure America's growth and prosperity. We've come to realize, however, that we've paid an environmental price. Our new challenge is to keep energy abundant, affordable and clean. Going forward, the course we chart as a nation will depend, to a very significant degree, on how successfully we meet that challenge.
"Energy is what makes life as we know it possible. Our economy, our national security, and our standard of living depend on energy. It's common knowledge but bears repeating: energy is what fuels our cars, heats our homes and powers our businesses.
"One of the greatest challenges we face is determining what our energy supply will look like in the future. The next 10 years could matter as much as any in the next 100. Of course, our current economic situation has given us new perspective and made tackling the energy and climate challenges all the more difficult. The recession has reminded us that actions do have consequences, and the strength of our economy can't be taken for granted.
"All of us want cleaner energy. As we pursue ways to make that happen, however, we need to keep several things in mind.
"First, the transition to a low carbon economy won't happen as quickly as many would like or have promised. Our nation is already shifting away from carbon-intensive fuel sources, but that process will take decades, not years, to complete. We will need oil and coal long into the future. Our policies must account for that reality and ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, those resources are produced here at home.
"At the same time, pursuing an energy system built on just a few preferred resources - say wind, solar, and biomass - will only slow us down. We must pursue all options. Natural gas has very low emissions, and nuclear energy has zero. These two resources already play an important role in our energy supply, and I believe we should increase their use considerably in the years ahead.
"Congressional action must also reflect our responsibilities to the American people. Our principal task right now is to revive the economy. To not only get it back on track, but to ensure it's future strength. If the economy continues to struggle - if unemployment remains high and deficits continue to soar - accomplishing our energy and environmental goals will only be more difficult.
"None of this is meant to suggest that we simply close our eyes and forget about climate change. Our climate is changing, and the impacts are real. Villages in my home state of Alaska are literally falling into the sea because of climate-related erosion. To me, climate change is not just an abstract threat, looming on the horizon - it's something that's already here.
"The question is not whether we should reduce emissions, but how we should reduce them. And the answer is by investing in low carbon technologies - through policies that protect our economy, keep energy affordable, and encourage the rest of the world to join the effort.
"While many prefer a sweeping policy shift to tackle this challenge, it's becoming apparent that incremental progress is more achievable, and, on many fronts, more desirable. The sooner we realize and accept that, the better.
"Many think of energy and climate as the same issue, capable of being addressed only by a policy like cap-and-trade. That's simply not the case - we have many other options to promote clean energy, and I think it's time we start getting some of them signed into law.
"Instead of spending time on a climate bill that has little chance of success, our best course of action is to pass the standalone energy bill developed earlier this year by those of us on the Senate Energy Committee.
"Chairman Bingaman named our committee's bill, Senate bill 1462, the American Clean Energy Leadership Act. And that's really what it is. It promotes clean energy, and moves America a step closer to becoming a global leader in that field.
"The Energy Committee's bill would increase the use of renewable energy across the nation; open a portion of the Eastern Gulf of Mexico to reduce our dependence on foreign oil; and dramatically boost investment in clean energy technologies. It would facilitate the expansion of our largest carbon-free power source, nuclear energy; and strengthen our commitment to energy efficiency.
"Now, many of you may ask why our bill should pass instead of cap and trade. First, and foremost, it would significantly reduce our nation's greenhouse gas emissions. Unlike a poorly designed cap and trade program, it would do this without attaching an anchor to our nation's economy. Perhaps most important, and again unlike cap and trade, is that the Energy Committee's bill is bipartisan. That's a huge difference because it means the bill is likely capable of passing the full Senate.
"President Obama has often said, and I'm quoting, that we shouldn't "let the perfect be the enemy of the good." Now, with so many Senators on record saying that the House bill is anything but perfect, I'm hopeful the fatally flawed won't be the enemy of the good, either. I'm hoping we can continue to have what is a useful and badly-needed debate on climate. In the meantime, if the Senate can pass the energy bill as a standalone measure, then it should.
"The only approach worse than the House bill would be to allow the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon dioxide from all sources as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. As many of you know, I'm considering an amendment that would limit for one year the EPA's ability to apply these regulations to anything other than the mobile sources that were the subject of the Massachusetts vs. EPA lawsuit.
"The Clean Air Act is simply one of the worst tools available to force reductions in carbon dioxide emissions. And I believe that attempts to get around this fact - through a so-called ‘tailoring proposal', or any other means - won't withstand a legal challenge. And even if it does, the Clean Air Act is, from an economic and regulatory standpoint, a terrible way to go.
"Since my amendment has stirred a bit of controversy, I want to take a second to "clear the air". My amendment would not stop this process forever - it would simply give Congress a year to debate climate policies and determine the best approach for reducing emissions. Given that no climate bill would take effect before 2012, my amendment would not slow down or detract from the overall process. And given that almost everyone involved in the climate debate prefers legislation to regulation, I'm hopeful that it will draw enough votes to pass.
"I am equally hopeful that the climate debate, without the cloud of economically harmful EPA regulations hanging over it, can move forwards toward a bill that can pass the Senate. I want my colleagues and constituents to know that I'm serious about climate change - but I am just as serious about preventing climate change policy from harming our economy.
"As we've seen with health care, one of the most crucial aspects of the climate debate will be whether a bill can draw bipartisan support. A number of my colleagues, from both sides of the aisle, are already working promising on alternatives to the Waxman-Markey bill.
"In an attempt to provide some transparency, I have developed a series of principles that must be part of any legislation I would be willing to introduce or endorse.
"First. Any action on climate change must minimize the potential costs to the economy.
"Second. Emission reductions must be effective, realistic and transparent, in order to establish a realistic compliance curve.
"Third. Whether a carbon tax or a cap and trade system, climate legislation should be market-based. A regulatory approach would cause too much damage, and should be ruled out for the next year.
"Fourth. International action must be part of the solution, because even tremendous reductions in domestic emissions will be futile if other countries are not partners in the effort.
"Fifth. Revenues raised through climate legislation should be returned to the public, not feed the federal bureaucracy.
"Sixth. Federal climate legislation should pre-empt a patchwork of state regulations, in order to provide certainty to business and help facilitate compliance.
"Seventh. Adaptation must be addressed. That goes for my home state of Alaska, and anywhere else in the United States that the impacts of climate change are being felt.
"If members of the Senate can adhere to these principles, I believe we can, within the next year, develop an effective climate policy that will reduce emissions with minimal economic consequences. That will require us to base our decisions on more than vote counts and special requests. It will require us to set aside politics, and focus on substance. But it can be done - and for the sake of our economy, the sake of our security, and the sake of the world's environment - it's time to get back to work.
"Thanks for inviting me to join you today, and for adding your voice to this debate. And, now I have a few minutes to answer any questions you may have."
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