No matter the ups and downs of the military campaign in Iraq, there is a central truth about the war we must acknowledge: this war is not free.
It was not free to the 28,661 men and women who have come home with horrible burns and scars, who gave up their eyes, their arms, their legs in Iraq. It was not free to the 3,877 soldiers who died thousands of miles away from home.
And it certainly was not free to the mothers, fathers, sons, daughters and friends who have to share in the burden of a soldier's injuries, or to those families who will never see their loved ones again.
For the past several months I have come to the floor to talk about what else it is costing us to be in Iraq, besides the awful loss of human life that has occurred. Since March 2003, $455 billion dollars are gone. The price tag for every additional month we spend there is $10 billion dollars. No matter how the war in Iraq drops in and out of the news, no matter how public opinion about it shifts, the costs keep piling up, to our troops, to their families, to all of us.
Today I'd like to speak about what it has cost us in terms of our energy independence.
Last night, this Congress passed a bill to push America toward energy independence and environmental responsibility.
Few things are more important to our national security than energy independence. Everyone, on both sides of the aisle, from coast to coast across this country, agrees that continuing to rely on oil not only fuels our cars, it fuels authoritarian regimes and radical ideologies, from Saudi Arabia to Iran, Venezuela to Sudan.
Few things are more important to the health of our environment than energy independence. If we are to pass on to our children a world where the air is breathable, where the oceans don't rise and flood their houses, where droughts don't parch their soil and starve them of food, we need to dramatically reduce the fossil fuels we are spewing into the atmosphere.
Few things are more important to our economic security than energy independence. Relying so heavily on oil means this country is walking a liquid tightrope over an economic canyon.
If oil prices go up even to the mid-$100s-and it wouldn't take that big a crisis in an oil-producing country to get the price that high-it would result in a massive recession, a massive devaluation of our dollar, a devastating blow to working families in this country. I'll say it again: oil is a liquid tightrope for this country, and only a truly enormous national effort can weave the net of alternative fuels, infrastructure and conservation to catch us when we fall.
So, with a problem this daunting, this enormously important to our future as a nation, you would think that both Republicans and Democrats would be willing to invest whatever it takes to get the problem solved.
The version of the energy bill we passed last night contains strong measures, and I voted for it. It requires auto makers to build cars with better gas mileage for the first time in more than twenty years. It requires our electric appliances to use less electricity for the first time in history.
But that legislation could have gone much farther.
Some argued that we could not afford to pay to spur innovation in alternative energy. On top of that, some of my colleagues blocked any progress on the energy bill until it included tax breaks for big oil companies. Let's remember that over the last few years these oil companies have hauled in half a trillion dollars in profits. We faced a clear choice: would we stand up for the oil companies, or for the American people? Many Republicans chose the oil companies.
Some senators had proposed creating new incentives for entrepreneurs to invest in new technologies like tidal, geothermal and small irrigation hydro power. But some of my colleagues blocked it. They said it was too expensive. Let's put that in context. The proposal would have invested $6 billion over ten years. In other words, it would have cost the same amount as we spend in Iraq every two and a half weeks.
Some senators had proposed a long-term extension of a tax credit for solar energy and related technologies, a $700 million investment over the next ten years. Some of my colleagues demanded that provision be cut.
Yet we could pay for that investment in alternative fuels for an entire decade with the money we spend in Iraq in-I can hardly believe it as I'm saying it-about 2 days. Roughly 2 days in Iraq would pay for that provision to help wean us off burning fossil fuels.
Conserving energy doesn't have to be complicated or expensive. The strong new standard we just passed to make electric appliances and light bulbs more efficient is proof of that. The energy savings is going to be tremendous.
When an American home replaces just one old incandescent bulb with a fluorescent bulb, it saves that family about $30 over the life of the bulb. And if every home in America changed just one bulb, in terms of the carbon emissions we kept out of our atmosphere, it would have the same impact as taking 800,000 cars off the road.
Let's say that back in 2003, instead of going to war, we decided to replace every light bulb in America with a more energy efficient model.
Since a compact fluorescent light bulb costs about $4, for the amount of money we've spent on the war in Iraq, we could have purchased more than 100 billion compact fluorescent light bulbs. Probably more if we'd gotten a bulk discount. In any case it would have been more than enough to light up every household in America for decades. It would probably be enough bulbs to light up planet Earth like a giant glowing ornament. That's the scale we're talking about.
If the President had proposed that back in 2003, we would have thought he was crazy.
And yet, it would have done far more for our energy independence than invading Iraq.
It is hard to fathom how much power that would have saved, how much money we would have saved, how much carbon we could have prevented from being spewed into the atmosphere, how much funding we could have ultimately denied to regimes that are no friends of ours, had we decided to actually put real money behind reducing our energy use. Instead, we got a war that has achieved nothing for any of us. That's what the war costs. It could have been traded for real solutions to one of the most tremendous problems of our time.
Deciding whether this nation is going to spend our blood and treasure on a war that achieves nothing for any of us, or whether we are going to devote our minds, budgets and hearts to solving our massive energy challenge, is a question of priorities. It is a question of values. On both counts, keeping the war in Iraq going indefinitely is the wrong answer.
If we do not change our priorities, so they match the values of the American people, I am afraid that every day we are going to be more and more aware of what the great American poet John Greenleaf Whittier wrote more than a hundred and fifty years ago: "of all sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these: what might have been." M. President, I yield the floor.