I commend Chairman Boxer and the Committee for scheduling this hearing today to give Senators the opportunity to voice our concerns about the growing climate crisis and our ideas on how to avert it.
We can no longer ignore the consequences of America’s excessive reliance on fossil fuels. The evidence is overwhelming that they are devastating our environment and threatening public health, and our reliance on foreign oil is putting our national security at risk.
I strongly support the “Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act” introduced recently by our new colleague, Senator Sanders. The act calls for ambitious, but necessary and achievable greenhouse gas reductions---including a “20 by 2020” renewable portfolio standard---to gain control over these emissions before major damage is done to the global climate.
In dealing with the global warming challenge, Congress must also set aggressive fuel economy targets and encourage greater fuel diversity. The fuel economy standards enacted 30 years ago are no longer adequate. They should be increased for cars to at least 40 miles per gallon over the next 10 years and to at least 27.5 miles per gallon for SUVs and vans.
There’s no silver bullet to end global warming, but greater use of renewable energy and increased fuel efficiency could have a major impact on cutting the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.
So can greater use of passenger rail and other forms of public transportation. In a single year, Americans travel nearly five trillion miles in the United States, more than 80 percent in personal vehicles. Yet, Amtrak is twice as energy efficient as highway traffic by car, truck, or motorcycle.
Unfortunately, the Administration is no friend of public transit. It has even sought to zero-out Amtrak’s operating subsidy. Instead, we should support Senator Frank Lautenberg’s bill to give Amtrak the resources it needs to manage its debt and make capital improvements, particularly in the heavily-used Northeast Corridor.
We must do more to increase fuel diversity so that cars and trucks aren’t so heavily reliant on petroleum. Senator Bayh and Senator Brownback have offered legislation, the DRIVE Act, to steer motor vehicle technology in the direction of bio-fuels, fuel cell vehicles and hybrid-electric cars, and support alternative fueling infrastructure so that consumers can fill their tanks with alternatives to petroleum.
Tax policy is also an important part of the solution to the challenge, and I hope this Committee can work closely with the Finance Committee to develop a comprehensive approach. We should certainly extend the tax credits for renewable energy technology such as hydrogen fuel cells and solar energy cells. Senator Gordon Smith proposed legislation in the last Congress for a multi-year extension of the tax credits for each of these technologies, and I urge this Congress to pass it or similar legislation as soon as possible.
A long-term extension of these tax credits is needed to attract potential investors in this these technologies. Massachusetts, California and Ohio are among the nation’s leaders in this field. In Massachusetts alone, more than 60 companies are involved in fuel cell and hydrogen technologies.
We should also do more to enable consumers to make environmentally-wise decisions about the power they use. Hundreds of utilities across the nation now offer “Green Pricing” programs that enable consumers to have their homes powered with electricity generated from renewable energy technology. We could encourage more rapid conversion to green power by offering a “Green Power Pricing” tax credit equal to the difference in the cost of clean power over dirty power.
We can reduce energy consumption in homes. We should make construction more energy efficient, such as by establishing a grant program to train the next generation of architects and building designers in “zero-energy home” principles, so that building owners can install more energy efficient technologies. Adopting these principles for new home construction will bring down the cost of household energy and support one of our nation’s bedrock industries.
Finally, any comprehensive plan should reinstate the windfall profits tax on the oil industry. We cannot rely on the oil companies to restrain themselves during the worst of times, so a windfall tax is clearly needed to protect consumers from price manipulation.
Again, I commend the Committee for taking up this immense challenge, and I look forward very much to working with you in the weeks ahead to enact legislation to deal with the urgent problem of climate change.