The Fight for Our Future

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, in the days after the 9/11 attacks, politicians, journalists and assorted experts rushed to claim that America and the world had entered a new era and that the battle with al Qaeda would define the first decades of the 21st century.

As the fight against al Qaeda has continued and intensified, we have come to see the impact of that fight on a key national security paradigm of the post Cold War era: the quest for energy security in an industrializing and ever-flattering world.

The United States has long recognized that our global leadership and economic strength depended on cheap, abundant energy from the Middle East. Disruptions to that supply as a result of the 1973 oil embargo, the Iranian revolution of 1979 and the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait had demonstrated our vulnerability to events halfway around the world. Rather than taking the steps necessary to wean ourselves from Middle East oil, we sought to create stability in the region by aligning ourselves with pro-Western autocrats whose powerful internal security forces kept restive populations in check.

Capacity and price, the first high and the second low, stayed our hand. Cheap and plentiful oil powered the American economy to preeminence while solar, wind and biomass energy were expensive. Environmental concerns, including increasing evidence that the burning of fossil fuels was altering the Earth's climate, were relegated to secondary status.

All of that has now changed. The 9/11 attacks and the Iraq war have highlighted the seething political instability in the Middle East. The rise of China and India have increased competition for oil even as the global supply has remained stable. Finally, the Earth's climate is changing more rapidly and more profoundly than many scientists had forecasted, leading to a global consensus that humanity must take immediate steps to curtail the emission of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gasses.

This confluence of political, economic and environmental factors is one of the greatest challenges that this Nation has faced in its history, but just as we have risen to meet other challenges--from the Revolution to the Civil War to the Great Depression and the totalitarian dictatorships of the 20th century--I am confident that we will emerge from this crisis stronger and better positioned than our economic rivals to prosper in this new world.

As for the other problems that we have faced, finding a solution will require us to put our faith in American ingenuity and in our enormous capacity to fund and focus research and development efforts. In the last 2 years, we have dramatically increased funding for research into renewable energy , but we must do even more by declaring a new Apollo Project for energy independence.

Even as we provide incentives to accelerate scientific research into reducing the cost of renewable energy , we must also act now to reduce our fossil fuel imports. The cheapest and quickest way to accomplish this is to reduce energy and fuel use through fuel efficiency, energy efficiency, conservation, and green development. We can also reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and foreign oil in the short term by a responsible increase in domestic production, but this must be viewed for what it is--a short-term expedient and a bridge to a future based on renewable energy .

We cannot convert our economy from one dependent on fossil fuels to one that is based on renewable energy overnight, but we must take the position that our continued use of oil and gas will be largely phased out in the coming decades and that renewed, environmentally responsible exploration is intended to ease the conversion to a post-fossil fuel economy.

As a threshold matter, we must improve the fuel efficiency of our cars and trucks, as Congress mandated last December, and develop plug-in hybrid vehicles to drive further efficiency. Doing this will not only break our addiction to oil, it will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent.

This effort should be undertaken in conjunction with the national effort to improve our public transportation system, which still receives just a fraction of the investment that we put into roads. Congress has acted to increase public transit, but more needs to be done both at a local level and, more importantly, at State and regional levels.

We must also make our homes more energy efficient by installing rooftop solar panels, switching to energy -efficient appliances and enabling consumers and businesses to pay lower prices for electricity at night so that we can reduce the daytime spike in electricity usage that requires utilities to keep high-price power generation on call.

Companies have invested and workers have trained themselves in industries that were supported by our past Tax Code and its provisions. Climate change legislation will change those incentives, and while many high-tech American industries will prosper, some industries will suffer. For example, in my home State of California, solar and geothermal are growing by leaps and bounds. There are start-ups throughout the State building solar energy plants and installing solar energy systems. The silicon shortage that has slowed solar development in the last 3 years is fading as new factories come online.

But this new development is still dependent on the tax incentives that Congress has still not extended past the end of the year. We must not let these tax incentives expire and, instead, extend them for several years so that this expanding industry can become a driver in the economy.

Mr. Speaker, my constituents are telling me they want Congress to take the steps necessary to transition our Nation to clean, renewable energy . I urge us to do exactly that.

They have told me that the energy crisis has imposed enormous hardship on them and on millions of other Americans. But, as in crises past, they also believe that our ingenuity, our can-do spirit and optimism will enable us to bequeath to our children and grandchildren a world that is cleaner and more prosperous. I share their hopes and their determination.