Stop Talking, Vote on Energy Plan

Domenici Column in the Albuquerque Journal

August 25, 2008
01:23 PM
 The following guest column appeared in the Albuquerque Journal on August 25th, 2008:
            “We can’t drill our way out of this problem.”  It’s a refrain that I hear constantly from my friends on the other side of the aisle during the ongoing Senate debate over what to do about the most important domestic issue facing our country—our energy future.
            Of course, they’re right.  We can’t drill our way out of the problem.  Energy prices are high, and our country is overly dependent on foreign oil. But Democrats are wrong to suggest that anyone of either party has suggested we can.  I certainly haven’t and I’m not aware of a single Republican who has suggested such a thing.
            The debate we’ve had in Washington over the last month has been one of the most frustrating I’ve ever participated in, steeped in politics like few I have ever seen .  After rushing a bad bill to the Senate floor addressing solely the question of speculation in the oil markets, the Senate Majority Leader immediately used a procedural maneuver to block any other Senator from offering an amendment to the bill—resulting in nine days of talk but no action.
            It’s a shame, because American family budgets are hurting right now, and the people want their government to act.  While prices have gone down a little since their peak, there is no doubt that we haven’t seen the last of $4.00 a gallon gasoline.  Many of us in the Senate have ideas that would lower prices and keep them below record levels. We should have been allowed to debate those ideas and offer them in the same way that I helped craft the last two major energy bills which are helping us reduce consumption and develop alternative energy sources.
            Although these are complex problems, my approach is actually quite simple: America ought to find more oil, and use less of it.  That’s why I introduced legislation that both increases domestic production of oil and gas and makes a significant long term commitment to develop promising plug-in hybrid technology for cars. When I’m asked if I favor more drilling, more conservation, or more renewable energy, I answer “all of the above.”  The challenges we face are so big that I believe America should develop all of its resources to face them.
            There is nearly unanimous agreement that renewable energy sources like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal need to be developed to their fullest potential.  Both the government and energy companies are spending a lot of money on research in these areas, but renewable energy technologies are economically feasible right now only with tax credits, many of which are set to expire.   It is vitally important that these tax credits are extended and that research continues.
 But even the most optimistic projections are that those technologies will not be ready to assume a large portion of our energy needs in the short term.  As the author of the largest tax credits in American history for renewable technologies, I know that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t invest heavily in them now, but it does mean that we must find something to use as a bridge until those technologies can provide more. 
            I think that bridge is sitting right off our coast and beneath our lands—American oil and natural gas.  We are the only country in the world that deliberately locks up our own oil and gas resources.  That policy has led us to become increasingly reliant on foreign oil to the point that we are now sending in excess of $500 billion overseas—in many cases to unfriendly countries—every year. 
            We are talking about opening up our reserves for two simple reasons.  First, our country’s entire transportation infrastructure is dependent on oil, and it can’t be changed overnight.  Until we find a substitute, we will be importing oil.  The question is not whether or not we will continue to use oil, but where that oil will come from.
 Instead of importing oil, why wouldn’t we want to use our own?  It seems like common sense, but the issue has gotten all mixed up with politics.   Instead of locking up our resources, we could open them up and create American jobs, receive American revenues and produce American energy.
            Second, if we do open up large oil reserves already in our possession, like in the outercontinental shelf, the world will take notice.  Experts believe that oil markets respond to both current supply and demand fundamentals as well as reasonable estimates of the supply-demand balance in the future.
Sitting right off the coast of the Atlantic and Pacific are at least 14 billion barrels of our own oil—as much as we have imported from the Persian Gulf in nearly 15 years.   And I say “at least” because the truth is that we don’t actually know how much oil is there—we’ve never done an inventory using current technology.   Recently, Brazil began exploring off its coast for oil, and found 33 billion barrels that nobody knew was there.  The same could be true right here at home, but unless Democrats allow the moratorium on offshore drilling to be lifted, we will never know.
            In Colorado, Wyoming and Utah, the potential for over 2 trillion barrels of oil exists in the form of oil shale contained in rocks.  The most conservative estimates are that America has a 106 year supply of oil though oil shale, yet once again, Democrats have taken even the potential for development off the table by placing a moratorium on issuing guidelines for development..   
            The consequences of failing to increase American production are significant, both for economic and security reasons.  With nearly 60 percent of our oil coming from overseas, we are increasingly reliant on unstable regions, and unpredictable rulers.  I would think that is a simply a matter of common sense that we should develop our own resources while we work to bring alternatives to the marketplace and enhance conservation efforts.
            At a minimum, Congress should be allowed to debate and vote on these issues. Unfortunately, Democrats thus far have gone to unprecedented levels—even cancelling consideration of bills to fund the government—to avoid having to take votes on offshore drilling and oil shale.  The American people want action from their leaders in Washington and by large percentages they have embraced the idea of producing more oil and using less energy to bring our gas prices down.  It is time for the Democratic leadership in Congress to allow a real, stand alone up-or-down vote on this strategy.