The Hearing will come to order. Good Morning.
Before I begin with my opening remarks, I would like to comment for a minute on the fact that the military action in Iraq that we had hoped and prayed to avoid is upon us.
My prayers go out for our troops’ safety, the speedy and successful completion of their mission, and their timely return home. Their work makes us safer. We owe them and their families our deep gratitude for their sacrifice.
As it is the responsibility of the United States to finish the job begun by the UN and end the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction, it is the responsibility of this body to look after the interests of the American people – which is why we are here today.
It is with no small irony that we are here today to discuss issues affecting our gasoline supply while our troops are engaged in the war on terror in the Middle East.
Our purpose in Iraq is to end a regime that risks becoming the arsenal of terrorism and which has defied the world for more than a decade to liberate the Iraqi people from oppression and violence. However, our mere presence in that part of the world highlights the fact that we are entirely too dependent on the oil that we import from the Middle East.
The legislation that we are here to discuss today – a compromise that will triple the amount of domestically-produced ethanol used in America – is one essential tool in reducing our dependence on imported oil.
This legislation is even more important, given that just yesterday, this body defeated a proposal to allow exploration and production of another major domestic source of energy – the Arctic National Wilderness Reserve.
It is no secret that we currently import over 58% of the oil we use. Last year, we imported an average of 4,558,000 barrels per day from OPEC countries, and 442,000 barrels per day from Iraq. Let me say that again – last year we imported nearly half a million barrels per day from Iraq.
As many of you know, the Senate overwhelmingly passed a fuels package in last year’s energy bill that established a 5 billion gallon renewable fuels standard, repealed the Clean Air Act’s oxygenate requirement and phased out the use of Methyl Tertiary Butyl Ether – or MTBE. Unfortunately, that energy bill was killed in a House-Senate Conference Committee not because of its merits, but because people put partisan political bickering ahead of getting an energy policy done.
One of the things that is contributing to our sputtering economy is the fact that we don’t have an energy policy. As I have often stated, we sorely need to develop a long overdue energy policy for our Nation. The Senate has a responsibility to develop a policy that harmonizes the needs of our economy and our environment. These are not competing needs. A sustainable environment is critical to a strong economy, and a sustainable economy is critical to providing the funding necessary to improve our environment.
We need a policy that broadens our base of energy resources to create stability, guarantee reasonable prices, and protect America's security. It has to be a policy that will keep energy affordable. Finally, it has to be a policy that won't cripple the engines of commerce which fund the research that will yield environmental protection technologies for the future.
I believe that increasing our use of alternative and renewable fuels such as ethanol and biodiesel is a key element in our effort to construct a viable energy policy. During the last Congress, I – along with several of my colleagues - worked to develop an ethanol package that provides a tangible benefit for the American people. Passage of an ethanol bill will protect our national security, economy, and environment.
Given the current situation in the Middle East, perhaps our greatest energy challenge is to reduce our reliance on foreign sources to meet our energy needs. As I mentioned, the United States currently imports about 58 percent of our crude oil. As a nation, we have been sending millions of dollars to Saddam Hussein every year for his oil – money that has funded his army and his weapons-programs which includes chemical weapons that he has used against his own population and threatened to use against Americans.
President Bush has stated repeatedly that energy security is a cornerstone for national security. I agree. It is crucial that we become less dependent on foreign sources of oil and look more to domestic sources to meet our energy needs. Ethanol is an excellent domestic source - it is a clean burning, home-grown renewable fuel that we can rely on for generations to come.
Ethanol is also good for our Nation's economy. Ohio is 6th in the Nation in terms of corn production and is among the highest in the nation in putting ethanol into gas tanks (over 40% of all gasoline sold in Ohio contains ethanol). An increase in the use of ethanol across the Nation means an economic boost to thousands of farm families across my State. Currently, ethanol production provides 192,000 jobs and $4.5 billion to net farm income nationwide.
Expanding the use of ethanol will also protect our environment by reducing auto emissions, which will mean cleaner air and improved public health.
Earlier this year, I – along with several of my colleagues - introduced legislation that is identical to the ethanol title passed by the Senate in last year’s comprehensive energy bill. I commented at that time that the legislation was a good starting point for discussions in this Congress on these issues.
It is my hope – and expectation – that we will mark up a fuels package similar to that legislation in this Committee and take it to floor. It is crucial that we move this important legislation immediately. These issues have been in front of us for far too long, and now that we have everybody in the same room at the same time and agreeing to the same legislation, we need to move it.
I thank Chairman Inhofe for his leadership in this Committee. I look forward to working with him, as well as with Senator Carper and the minority on these issues as we prepare to markup legislation that makes sense for our energy security, environment and economy this year.
Our witnesses on the first panel today include Mr. Jeffrey Holmstead, the Assistant Administrator for Air Quality at the Environmental Protection Agency, Mr. David Garman, the Assistant Secretary for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, and Mr. Guy Caruso, the Director of the Energy Information Administration. In our second panel we will hear from various witnesses who represent a wide variety of stakeholder interests.
I would like to thank these witnesses, and everyone else who came to the table and worked together on reaching the compromise on these issues that we reached last year. I really believe that this is the best way (and frankly, the only way) to get things done in this town, and I wish that it happened more often. I look forward to hearing the testimony from our witnesses, and I thank them for being here today.