On the eve of Senate hearings on climate change legislation, Sen. Lamar Alexander denounced the bill Monday as a job killer and offered his own alternatives to curtailing greenhouse gases.
Alexander said, in a conference call with reporters, the United States should build 100 nuclear power plants and electrify half of the country's cars and trucks in the next 20 years. In addition, he called for exploring offshore for natural gas and for launching four "mini-Manhattan Projects" to research alternative energy.
He said the research efforts should focus on finding ways to recapture carbon from coal plants, to make solar power cost competitive, to make electric batteries better, and to recycle nuclear fuel without isolating plutonium.
"Almost every other major country in the world is moving ahead with nuclear power plants," said Alexander, who has called for massive construction of new reactors for months. "We invented the nuclear power plant and haven't built a new one in 30 years. If we had invented a nuclear navy and it was doing exactly what we wanted it to do, why would we suddenly stop building nuclear vessels and start subsidizing sailboats for our navy?"
He said that's analogous to what the Senate climate change legislation would do.
"Just as we're not going to win a war with sailboats, we're not going to meet a carbon [reduction] goal with windmills or with solar panels that cost four or five times more than conventional electricity. We're going to have to go with what we invented. What we invented is nuclear power. And what we have coming on rapidly is electric cars. Just those two things alone may get us where we need to go and if they don't we can take additional steps."
The Senate's environment and public works committee will start hearings Tuesday on the climate change bill backed by the committee chair, Barbara Boxer of California, and John Kerry of Massachusetts. The bill aims to cut U.S. emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
Like the bill that's already passed the House, it would impose a cap-and-trade system with permits for greenhouse gas emissions that companies could buy and sell. It also would provide incentives for alternative energies like windmill and solar power.
Alexander said he accepts the science of climate change and global warming. But he said, "I don't think we should start out by deliberately making ourselves poorer by running jobs overseas and making it harder for people to pay their mortgages and hospital bills until we've tried other alternatives."
"Our goal as a country and a world has always been to have cheap energy, not expensive energy. Expensive energy makes people poor. Cheap energy makes people prosperous."