An Interview with Senator Nelson

“This senator is not going to allow Florida to be a sacrificial lamb . . . ” – Senator Bill Nelson

Friday morning, September 5, Senior Senator Bill Nelson gave an interview to  me as he was on his way to deliver a major address on energy and oil drilling to a sold-out crowd at The Forum Club of the Palm Beaches’ first luncheon of the season. The senator talked about the points he was going to make in his upcoming speech, including his ideas for solving the energy crisis and why he believes the Republicans are so bent on drilling as he was driving down to the Kravis Center’s Cohen Pavilion in West Palm Beach. Emphasizing his commitment to keeping drilling off of our shores, the Senator gave a similar speech to Congress the following Tuesday.

The text of the speech is as follows:

 “I am honored to have been invited to address the September luncheon of the Forum Club.  I congratulate each of you for your active participation in our political process – and, for the civil and non-partisan way you conduct your affairs.” 

“For all of us, this is a time of complex and continuing challenges.  We see increasing frustrations on the part of many Floridians; and, a lot of Americans as well.”

“This is why leaders should be guided by civility, and be more willing to work across the aisle.  Otherwise, we’ll never be able to win enough public support or find the best solutions to our most pressing problems.”

“Our nation is engaged in wars; and, our national debt and reliance on foreign oil are heavy burdens on our economy.  In fact, the greatest single threat to our security may well be our dependence on oil – not foreign oil, but oil. This is why I want to discuss with you a possible path to America breaking this addiction; to the United States becoming energy independent in ten years.  In so doing, I want to caution against listening to the misguided rhetoric and hollow chants, like, those heard on the floor of the Republican convention this week: “Drill, baby, drill.” ”

 “Such a seemingly swift and simple solution to high gas prices has no basis in reality.  As President Kennedy would warn us: real solutions “are not easily or cheaply obtained, nor are they quickly and simply explained.””

 “Reason and common sense should tell us: leasing more of our most protected coasts and bays and our harbors won’t get us off oil.  Look, our government already has leased 68 million new acres to the oil companies and they haven’t even sunk the first well.  Yet they want more?”

 “More leasing won’t stabilize Iraq or guarantee Saudi Arabia’s long-term friendship.  Nor will it end the unregulated speculation that drove oil prices to over $147 a barrel, and  pushed pump prices to more than $4 a gallon.”

 “More leasing will only delay America’s freedom from oil.  And, if we do – “drill, baby, drill” – we will dirty and destroy our state’s economy.” 

“Even worse, it will cut the heart and lungs out of the last unfettered military training range in the Gulf of Mexico that we have left for our pilots.”

 “More fundamentally – no matter what anybody says or writes – the U.S. has only three percent of the world’s oil reserves, while it uses nearly one-fourth of the world’s supply.”

 “That means we cannot drill our way out of this problem.”

 “It’s what I’ve been saying for years.  And now, even oilman T. Boone Pickens is saying it:  We cannot drill our way out of this problem.”

 “So, what do we do?”

 “For the short term, we need to keep bringing gas prices down by not wasting so much oil, and by banning greedy speculation on the part of the oil traders and profiteers.”

 “A Senate investigation recently found there was lax federal oversight of these traders, due to a loophole slipped into law in 2000 at the behest of the infamous Enron Corp.”

 “BP Amoco, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley Dean Witter also were instrumental in getting this so-called Enron loophole through Congress.”

 “Afterward, the price of both oil and natural gas skyrocketed – despite reports that supplies were mostly adequate.”

 “Links between soaring oil prices and vast sums of money flowing through these unregulated commodities have been uncovered by the Senate’s Commerce and Homeland Security committees.”

 “In the House, a top executive for a major oil company testified that crude oil should only be about $55 a barrel, based on the rules of supply and demand.”

 “By any measure, then, this Enron loophole – which exempts electronic traders of energy contracts from federal oversight – was an ill-conceived public policy.”

 “This is why I’ve filed legislation to close it, as a means of stopping unchecked run-ups in crude oil and gasoline prices.”

 “I’ve told our majority leader, Harry Reid, I want the Senate to act quickly on legislation aimed at reining in oil prices, including the proposal to ban speculation.” 

 “Fortunately, the price of oil has fallen lately, largely because speculators are bailing out of futures contracts.  They drove the price up to shocking highs; now, they’re driving it down; but, they could drive it up, again.  So we’ve got to close that loophole.”

 “It’s clear we could bring the price of gas down even further, if we would only cut out the waste, if we would conserve.”

 “About 50 percent of all the oil we use goes into our cars and trucks, so it shouldn’t take a rocket scientist to realize this is where we must focus.”

 “You know, it took the U.S. more than 30 years to raise mileage standards to a paltry 35 miles per gallon.  Most of Europe, meantime — and the cars that even American manufacturers sell there — already average 43 miles a gallon.  Japan is approaching 50 miles per gallon.In other words, we’re wasting billions of gallons of oil here at home.”

“To stop it, we must enact serious conservation measures, such as 40 miles per gallon for our vehicles, and, we must provide bigger tax incentives for people to buy hybrid cars.”

“Now, these are not simple chants, but real solutions.”

“Granted, they’re for the short term.  For the long run, we have to rapidly build cars that run on batteries or hydrogen, not petroleum; and, we need to develop alternative fuels, like ethanol, from things we don’t eat.”

“Our government — led by the next president — must enact a national energy program to transition us from petroleum to alternative and synthetic fuels.  President Kennedy led us to conquer the bounds of Earth within a decade.”

“We need to act with the same urgency.”

“And while we’re at it, we’re going to have to pay attention to how we power our homes and industry.  We are going to need to develop solar, wind and thermal energy, and safer nuclear power.”

“Right here in Florida, we already have some of the most innovative work being done that will move us to a clean energy future. That’s because a group of us in the state Legislature decided back in the mid 1970s that we needed to find new ways to power the state.  We set up the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa to perform cutting edge research and to reach out to students and to communities and researchers.” 

“And over thirty years later, they have succeeded in their mission, and then some.  Recently, they were selected by the Department of Energy to lead a team of researchers who are tasked with helping to convert sunlight directly into electricity.”

“But the center doesn’t stop at finding new ways to harness the power of the sun.  They are working on alternative fuels, hydrogen cells and green buildings. At every turn, their research is at the forefront of what is being done to get America off oil.”

“So, the chant ought not to be: “drill, baby, drill.”  It ought to be: clean energy now!””

In our interview, Senator Nelson talked some more about the Florida Solar Energy Center that he mentioned in his speech. “When I was a young legislator, I had the privilege of sponsoring a bill that created this center at the Airforce Station in Cape Canvereal. It has since moved to Cocoa Beach, and during the last 30 years, the Center has been involved in increasing ways to take solar energy and convert it to electricity.The ideas that are coming out of the Center are ones that people can use and put up on their own buildings,” he said.

Senator Nelson remains committed in his opposition to drilling for oil off Florida’s coast. He doesn’t believe that recent polls stating that most Floridian’s support drilling, saying that the poll questions were asked in such a way as to skew the answers. “They asked, ‘Because of high prices, would you consider lifting the ban on drilling’ – that question leads people to want to say yes, but it doesn’t solve the problem,” he explained.

In his speech, the Senator talks about the 68 million new acres already leased to oil companies that haven’t been drilled on. Drilling supporters say that the reason for this is because the leased land doesn’t contain enough oil to be profitable, and that areas currently under the drilling ban are rich in oil. Senator Nelson told me that that isn’t true, and the only reason oil companies want more land is to increase their own value. He pointed to legislation he enacted with U.S. Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., two years ago, which allows drilling on 8.3 million acres in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The legislation protects Florida’s beaches by keeping rigs at least 125 miles from the northwest coast and at least 235 miles from the Tampa Bay area through 2022. “The oil companies were hot to trot to have those new acres, and they haven’t drilled the first well,” he said. “Even though they have proven reserves that they can drill on. That’s because the more land a company has, the more assets it has, the more it’s stock is worth. They’re trying to get all the land they can to drive up their net worth.”

I asked the Senator about the part of his speech where he speaks of cars, manufactured by Americans but not sold here, that average 43 miles to the gallon. We wanted to know why the cars were not sold here. “That’s because there is cabal between Detroit and the oil industry,” the Senator replied.

Senator Nelson then touched on recent news reports that Barack Obama has changed his mind and now supports drilling. “What Barack has said is that he wants the oil companies to drill on the acres already leased before they are given more,” he said. “The only reason the Republicans are so focused on drilling is because they believe it will get them votes.”

The Senator concluded our interview by saying that he has alot of support for his plans in Washington, and remains committed to finding a way to energy independance without drilling. “When you receive these seductive, simple kind of slogans as if it is the solution, I ask you to dig a little deeper and look further,” Nelson said. “Common sense ought to tell you if the U.S. has 3 percent of the world’s oil reserves but consumes 25 percent of the world’s oil production, you can’t drill your way out of the problem.”

Keri Hendry, originally published in the Island Sand Paper, September 12, 2008.



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