New Brunswick, NJ - In a commencement address to graduates of the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University today, U.S. Senator Robert Menendez called for an Apollo-style project to establish Americas independence from foreign oil. Menendez told graduates that throughout the 20th century, America harnessed its unique spirit of innovation and strength of character to defeat fascism, put a man on the moon, and win the cold war, and urged a similar national commitment to end the countrys addiction to oil.

The time for minor tinkerings around the edges of our energy policy has passed, Menendez said. This is not a problem we can simply drill our way out of, and it is not a problem we can wish our way out of. We need a comprehensive plan that considers every option on the table to breaking our addiction to oil.

The bottom line is that this plan must be focused not on finding more oil, but on using less. Conservation is not merely a personal virtue, as some have suggested. Along with finding alternative energy sources that do not rely on fossil fuels, conservation is the key to establishing our energy independence.

The full text of Menendezs remarks are below.

A Call to Public Service for the 21st Century: An Apollo Project to Break our Addiction to OilBy Senator Robert Menendez

Commencement Address to Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy

It is always a joy to return to Rutgers, which in many ways helped launch me on my own journey to public service years ago.

This is the second commencement address Ive given this year, and each time, I cant help but be reminded of just last year when I was seated in the audience as the parents today are, watching my daughter Alicia graduate from college. Next year, I look forward to watching my son Bob complete his undergraduate education.

For many of the parents in the audience, I know that it was just a few years ago that you sat in similar seats as you watched your children receive their undergraduate degrees and you said to yourself, Thank God theyre finally finished. Now, after two years of graduate school tuition, I know youre sitting there saying Please God, let them finally be finished.

Graduates, congratulations. This is the culmination of one journey for you and the beginning of another. You are ready to take your place as the next generation of leaders for our state and our country. This school is a special place with a profoundly important mission. As your mission statement says, The Bloustein School is committed to a rebirth of the public-service ethic in the United States. I share that belief that public service is the engine of American democracy, and that has been my lifes work as well.

Many of you will no doubt find jobs in city government or state agencies, social organizations or transportation authorities, or even pursue elected office. And as you do, you will fulfill one of this nations most noble callings, but with it you take on a responsibility not just for yourself and your future, but for the future of your state and your country. But with that responsibility also comes opportunity, the opportunity to lead your fellow citizens to greater days ahead. Public service isnt a passive phrase it is an action verb. You have studied public service, and now it is time to put what youve learned to work.

Your leadership over the coming years will be so important because the challenges our nation faces are so great.

President John F. Kennedy captured the essence of leadership in public service when he said in his inaugural address, Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country. With that call to action, he urged every American to ask more of ourselves individually and to ask more of each other as well.

We must all live up to our individual responsibility, but we have always made our nation stronger when we join forces to fulfill our shared responsibilities. We are a nation of entrepreneurs, of rugged individualists who from our earliest days revealed the power that lies in our character, in our can-do nature. But the true miracle of America over the past 230 years is the example we have set for the world time and time again when we give individuals the freedom to blaze their path to success while also living up to our responsibilities to each other, there is no power on this earth as great as ours, no promise so bold, and no hope unattainable.

It is the lesson that each of us learns from our parents and that we pass on to our children, that with rights come responsibilities.

Over the course of our history, we have always harnessed our individual power to achieve things that many thought were impossible. Just think of what this nation did in the 20th century. In the 1940s, the country united to defeat fascism and rebuild a continent that had been devastated by war. In the 1950s, President Eisenhower built the federal highway system, which united the nation like never before, transformed our economy and connected America from coast to coast.

In the 1960s, President Kennedy called on the nation to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, and on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong made that one giant leap for mankind. And as great as that accomplishment was, America topped it in the 1970s by inventing disco, ..which we have been trying to un-invent ever since.

In the 1980s, we defeated communism, and watched as freedom swept across Eastern Europe, inspiring millions to tear down walls and stake their claim to a free society. And in the 1990s, we made tough choices as a nation to balance our budget for the first time in three decades, which launched an economic expansion that created millions of jobs.

Those noble goals were achieved because our nations leaders had the vision to call upon our better virtues. America responded every time by answering the challenge and unlocking new opportunities for our country.

But I ask you, what is the great goal we share today? What is the challenge that can unite our country in common cause for a purpose that will bear fruit for generations to come?

As I said earlier, with public service comes great responsibility, the responsibility to not just ask those questions of your countrymen, but to answer them. As you pick up your diploma today, you are also assuming the mantle of leadership that comes with it. And in the years to come, each of you may answer those questions differently.

But let me do my duty as an elected leader today and suggest a goal that I believe can unite our country, one that I believe all Americans should join in pursuing. It is my belief that for the foreseeable future, America can have no greater goal than achieving energy independence that will improve our economy, protect our environment, and strengthen our national security.

Earlier this year, President Bush shocked many by saying that this nation was addicted to oil. And whatever your overall opinion about his administration and its actions, in this case, his diagnosis was accurate. And if it wasnt clear already, it has literally been driven home over the past month, as we have all felt the pain of paying three dollars a gallon for gasoline and heard analysts say that four and five dollar gasoline may be right around the corner.

That is one price of our addiction, but its not the only one. In addition to the pain at the pump we all feel, our economy pays a price when expensive energy makes it harder to bring goods and services to market or crowds out investments in new technologies or in health care or wage increases.

We also pay the price to our environment, where fossil fuel consumption has dirtied our skies and contributed to global warming that if left unchecked will threaten not just our health and our environment, but our very way of life. And as India and China continue their rapid pace towards industrialization and modernization, those countries are joining us in gobbling up more and more oil.

We pay the price to our security when a corrupt regime like Iran feels emboldened to threaten its neighbors with nuclear weapons, and do so with impunity because their access to oil makes it possible for them to buy influence around the globe. As the New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has pointed out, its not a coincidence that when oil was $20 a barrel, both Russia and Iran launched internal reform programs to increase democratic participation. As the price of oil has soared past $70 a barrel, both of those countries have reversed course and used their burgeoning treasuries to stifle dissent and roll back democratic progress.

The same story can be told across the world. From the corrupt royal governments and pseudo-theocracies of Middle East, to the iron-fisted dictators who hold sway in the former Soviet countries in Central Asia, to the petro-populism of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, many of the countries who sit on the largest reserves of oil are the same countries who are now resisting reform and creating global instability. If the story of the 20th century was of a tidal wave of democracy sweeping across the globe, the emerging story of the 21st century is of that wave being swallowed underneath a flood of crude. As long as the tyrants who have the lucky fortune to sit on top of massive oil reserves can prop up their regimes through huge petroleum profits, there will be no reform. Bringing down the price of oil is a key to democratic, economic and social reform in much of the world.

Finally, we pay the price on both sides of the war on terror, where we pay with American lives and treasure to fight an enemy largely financed by the profits earned from our own reliance on $70 a barrel oil.

No other threat to our nation has such broad implications to our economy, our security and our environment. But as daunting as the challenge is, it is not insurmountable. Like any addiction, we hold the power to treating it, we just need the will to do so.

Such an effort will require bold leadership by our president and our Congress, who must join together to launch an Apollo-style initiative to end our dependence on foreign oil within a generation. The time for minor tinkerings around the edges of our energy policy has passed. This is not a problem we can simply drill our way out of, and it is not a problem we can wish our way out of. We need a comprehensive plan that considers every option on the table to breaking our addiction to oil.

The bottom line is that this plan must be focused not on finding more oil, but on using less. Conservation is not merely a personal virtue, as some have suggested. Along with finding alternative energy sources that do not rely on fossil fuels, conservation is the key to establishing our energy independence.

Breaking our dependence on oil also means the Congress needs to break its dependence on big oil companies. The five biggest oil companies made combined profits of $100 billion last year, with ExxonMobil alone making $36 billion in profits. Yet the Congress continues to shower the industry with billions of dollars of unnecessary tax breaks. They got $2.5 billion in new tax breaks last year, and then just this week were allowed to escape from a provision that would have repealed $5 billion of breaks they no longer need. Only this Congress could develop an addiction treatment program where step one is to give more money to the pushers themselves.

Heres what we must do instead. We need to require Detroit to make more fuel-efficient vehicles, and we need to use incentives to entice them to make more hybrid cars and to develop new cars that run on flex-fuels. We need to spend more money to develop alternative sources of energy, such as wind, solar, and biomass. We need to increase our investments in new forms of ethanol that come from sources other than corn. We need to reform our building codes so energy efficiency is a standard that is considered right along with public safety.

The federal government needs to set the right example by becoming greener. Im trying to do my part by making my office the first zero net carbon emissions Senate office. I will be determining what my carbon footprint is, from the electricity I use in my offices and my travel around the state and down to Washington, and offset that by purchasing clean energy from wind farms and other providers. New Jerseys Clean Energy program has made it particularly easy for every person in the state to do their part to help cut down on the amount of fossil fuels we use, and I believe this model should be replicated throughout the country.

All of these initiatives are part of the solution, but more than anything we need a focused, sustained effort that starts at the top and calls for action by all Americans.

When President Kennedy called for the country to join together to put a man on the moon, he said I have not asked for a single program which did not cause one or all Americans some inconvenience, or some hardship, or some sacrifice. In that same spirit, a successful plan for energy will require not just discipline, but also sacrifice.

But by harnessing American innovation and the strength of purpose that has made this nation great, we can deliver the benefits of energy independence. With a comprehensive program, we can decrease our trade deficit and improve our economy. We can improve our competitiveness by being a leader in the development of clean technology, which will be in demand by countries around the globe over the next century. By becoming a leader in fighting climate change, we can restore much of the respect that we have lost around the world in recent years. And perhaps most importantly, we can improve our security by helping promote democracy and undermining the very regimes that finance terrorism and spread instability throughout the world.

In 2001, Vice President Cheney said years down the road alternative fuels may become a great deal more plentiful than they are today. But we are not yet in any position to stake our economy and our way of life on that possibility. He went on to say that the reality is that fossil fuels provide virtually 100 percent of our transportation needs and an overwhelming share of our electricity requirements. For years down the road, this will continue to be true.

With all due respect to the vice president, for years down the road that cannot continue to be true if we are to have any hope of avoiding a cataclysmic crisis that impacts our economy, our environment and our security. We have the will to summon our nation to a higher purpose, to ask that Americans unite for a cause that is more important than the needs of each individual. We have the means to do it, we just need the leadership that will take us there.

It is time to write our own Declaration of Energy Independence.

As you enter the professional world, you are poised to provide your country that leadership. I know you are ready to do it, and I hope you will seize the opportunity before you to change your country and build a nation that is both stronger and safer. The future is in your hands.

And if it doesnt work out, maybe you can invent the next version of disco.

Thank you and god bless.

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