McConnell: Senate Energy Summit

Remarks of U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell

“Over the past several months, Congress has been engaged in an important debate. Americans are rightly frustrated over the high cost of gas at the pump and the high cost of energy in general. Four dollar a gallon gasoline was the tipping point, galvanizing consumers across the country and sparking Congress to refocus its energy on a problem that has been with us for decades.

“The seriousness of this problem — and the need to do something about it soon — was brought home to me in an especially vivid way during my time at home in Kentucky over the August break. In dozens of public events, I spoke to commuters, farmers, and owners of small and large businesses whose lives have been disrupted, in some cases tragically so, by the high cost of gas.

“Kentucky is home to about 80,000 farms. I heard about the soaring cost of fertilizer, which is made with natural gas; the cost of fueling farm equipment with diesel, and even the rising cost of seeds, which are often trucked into farms from a long distance. I heard about the soaring costs from UPS, one of Kentucky’s largest employers, and the owner of one of the nation’s largest air fleets in Louisville. A recent article in one of the national papers noted that UPS drivers have been told by management not to take left hand turns. It saves gas by cutting down on idling time. The article was meant to be funny, but I assure you the employees in Louisville aren’t laughing.

“Nor are the residents in rural Kentucky, who are among the hardest-hit consumers in the nation as a result of high gas prices. With lower-than-average incomes and few mass transit options, most of these folks are now spending a giant chunk of their paychecks on fuel each week. The average resident of Owsley County in Eastern Kentucky, for example, is now spending more than 15% of his or her income on fuel — the fourth highest average of any county in the nation.

“But perhaps the most distressing story I’ve heard about the consequences of high fuel prices came from the operators of a dialysis center in Elizabethtown, Ky., who told me that some of their patients are cutting down on life-sustaining treatments — because it’s just too expensive for them to drive back and forth from their homes four times a week. These people are desperate for help.

“Republicans, I assure you, are open to any reasonable suggestion that will lead to a concrete, meaningful result. And it is with this in mind that Republicans have already coalesced around a simple and straightforward principle that we believe could and should form the basis of bipartisan legislation on this issue: we need to both find more American energy and use less.

“We know that we can “find more” domestic energy by means of deep sea exploration off our coasts and by developing Western oil shale deposits which, according to conservative estimates, represent at least 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil. At the moment, the vast majority of these enormous domestic resources are off-limits to consumers as a result of federal regulation. “Republicans have repeatedly demonstrated our strong support for energy conservation measures. Most recently, we demonstrated that commitment by supporting the first increase in federal fuel economy standards for cars and trucks in decades.

“But it must be said at the outset that conservation alone is clearly insufficient. While all of us may envision a future in which America does not run on fossil fuels, this is not today’s reality. Nor will it be for many years to come. We need to be realistic and recognize that — in the near term — we will still need more oil and gas. And I believe that this oil and gas should come from America’s own ample domestic reserves — not from the Middle East. We cannot, and should not, ask people like rural Kentuckians to assume the burden of this transition when we have enormous energy reserves under our own feet, reserves that the government has made increasingly difficult to tap.

“Indeed, few people seem to realize that as America’s energy consumption has increased over the last three decades, we’ve actually been producing less and less of it at home. As a result of government regulation at every level, America’s domestic oil production has dropped to roughly half of the 10 million barrels per day that we produced right here at home three decades ago.

“This trend toward less domestic energy production may have made sense to some people at a time of cheap oil. It makes no sense at a time of $4 a gallon gasoline. And most people realize that.

“The American people are demanding that Congress do something to alleviate high gas prices, and to do something significant. Some of the proposals we have heard from the other side make an effort. But, by and large, they fall seriously short. They either ignore the need for increased domestic supply, or they’re disproportionally meager in light of the severity of the crisis.

“The primary drivers of the current oil shock — economic growth in China and India — are not going away. The American people realize this, and that’s why they’re not likely to be satisfied with half-measures from Congress. In this case, I’m convinced, finding more means finding a lot more. We have the resources. Americans want us to use them. And they are exactly right.

“I look forward to hearing the proposals of today’s witnesses. It’s my hope that today’s summit energizes the Senate and brings us even closer to delivering a concrete, meaningful solution to the people of Kentucky and to the rest of the American people, as quickly as possible.

“Thank you.”