Updates on Darfur, Immigration, Gas Prices

April 27, 2006

Hello, this is Senator Barack Obama and today is Thursday, April 27, 2006.

A lot of stuff is going on in Washington right now and so what I want to do is provide you some updates on issues that have been discussed on this podcast before but I think are absolutely critical to focus on right now.

The first is the issue of Darfur. Many of you heard my previous podcast and have been following this issue in the news. We have a situation in which the Sudanese government in Khartoum has backed militias and gangsters that have slaughtered up to 300,000 innocent Africans. We have a situation in which two million or so people are internally displaced in the Sudan, incredibly vulnerable to potential famine, disease and we're now seeing a spillover effect from Sudan into Chad, where you have another 200,000 refugees.

The Bush administration properly labeled this several years ago as an ongoing genocide. The situation has not improved. The world needs to focus its attention on it and America needs to send a message to its leadership that this is a top priority. We need to get a UN protection force in there to protect the two million people who are internally displaced. We've got to start peace talks between the rebels and the Khartoum government that provides some basis for a long-term settlement of disputes there and we have to make sure that humanitarian aid continues.

In the interest of all these issues stopping the genocide in Darfur there are going to be a couple of activities that I hope some of you can attend. Number one: this Sunday, we are going to be holding a rally to save Darfur in the United States Capitol, in Washington. That will be taking place from two o'clock until four o'clock in front of the United States Capitol, between 3rd Streets and 4th Streets. If you are interested in participating, you should get on the website savedarfur.org. That will give you all the details. I'm going to be there and Elie Wiesel, the author and Holocaust survivor, is going to be there. We're going to have George Clooney there as well as a number of people who have been active on this issue. I hope we can have a strong turnout that sends a message that genocide is not acceptable not only in the United States but the United Nations and the international community have to rally behind these folks. There is also going to be a Chicago rally on May 1, 2006 at 4:30 p.m. in the Federal Plaza in Dearborn and Adams and so for my Chicago listeners or Illinois listeners you can show your support in that fashion if you can't make the rally in Washington.

The second issue I just want to give you an update on is immigration. I met with the President and some of my other colleagues in the West Wing this week to discuss with him where we are on immigration reform. Obviously this is an issue of great passion. It is an issue that has brought together diverse coalitions of people who recognize that we have to change how we approach immigration.

I've been one of they key negotiators in the Senate for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that includes something that everybody agrees to: we have to improve border security. It also includes internal enforcement, making sure that employers actually are checking a verifiable, tamper-proof ID card to show that a worker is legally inside the United States to work. But three, that we're providing a pathway to citizenship for the 11 to 12 million people who are already in the United States.

There's been a lot of talk on cable and talk radio about amnesty and how we shouldn't allow lawbreakers to become U.S. citizens. The fact of the matter is that these 11 to 12 million people came here for the same reason that every immigrant group has come here and that's a search for a better life for their children. They didn't do it through the regular processes and they should be penalized for that and as a consequence what we've been setting up is an eleven-year process that gives people an opportunity for citizenship but still puts them in the back of the line behind those who are applying legally for citizenship.

Having said that, it is important for us to bring these folks out of the shadows to ensure that they are subject to the same protections that any legal worker has in this country because if we leave them in the shadows, not only are they vulnerable, not only are they living in fear, many of these people are our neighbors, our friends, people who are looking after our children, doing work across the country, some of the dirtiest and toughest work without complaint. But if we don't do anything, these are also folks who can, because of their tenuous status, undercut the wages of U.S. workers. If they're not subject to minimum wage laws, if they're not subject to worker safety laws, if they can't unionize, than naturally their wages are going to be depressed and that means that there is an incentive for employers to hire these workers instead of U.S. citizens. If, on the other hand, they're out of the shadows, they have the same rights and obligations as every other worker who is in this country legally, than they are on even footing in terms of employers making hiring decisions. So don't get caught up in the false rhetoric about amnesty. What we are talking about is an earned pathway to citizenship. Over the course of eleven years, they would have to pay a fine, they would have to learn English, they would have to pay back taxes and they would be behind those who applied here legally. So, they wouldn't' be rewarded for their illegal behavior but we would recognize that our future as a country involves absorbing these people who are already here so we wouldn't have an entire class of second-class citizens.

The third point I want to make is that I know gas prices are high out there. There's been a lot of talk by the both the White House and Congress about how we're going to bring gas prices down. I want to tell people the truth and that is that there aren't a lot of short-term solutions to this problem. We have some bills in the Senate that are calling for the taxing of the windfall profits of the big oil companies who are making out like bandits. I will vote "aye" on a bill like that if it comes through the Senate. I've been active along with other Democrats in pushing to make sure that the Federal Trade Commission is investigating any kind of price-gauging that's taking place in gas stations around the country. But the bottom line is that the United States, which has about 3 percent of the oil reserves in the world consumes 25 percent of the oil, and we're not going to be able to pump our way out of this problem and even if Exxon and Mobile decided they weren't going to make any profits, we'd still have problems because the world's oil market has reached $75 a barrel this week. So we are going to have to think about how we are going to wean ourselves off our dependence on oil. That's a national security imperative because right now we are financing both sides of the war on terrorism by sending billions of dollars to some of the most hostile countries on Earth. It is an economic problem; it makes us extraordinarily vulnerable every time we see price shocks like this and that pressure is just going to continue as China and India grow and scramble for resources. Finally, it's a major contributor to global warming. It's helping us along the path that could lead to an environmental catastrophe that could have an adverse impact for our children and our grandchildren.

I've put together a series of speeches and proposals that are on my website. I would urge everybody to take a look at them; I won't reiterate them now, but a lot of it focuses on increasing fuel efficiency standards and shifting to bio-diesel. I just want everybody to remember as they are putting that $3 a gallon gas in their SUVs that our long-term answer is getting serious about a new energy policy. We have to start making those plans now in a serious way and not just resort to cheap rhetoric whenever the gas prices go up.

I hope that I see some of you at the rallies, either in Washington or in Chicago, about Darfur. I appreciate you listening. Bye-bye.

Floor Statement of Senator Barack Obama on Immigration Reform

April 3, 2006

Mr. President, I come to the floor today to enter the debate on comprehensive immigration reform. It is a debate that will touch on the basic questions of morality, the law, and what it means to be an American.

I know that this debate evokes strong passions on all sides. The recent peaceful but passionate protests that we saw all across the country--500,000 in Los Angeles and 100,000 in my hometown of Chicago--are a testament to this fact, as are the concerns of millions of Americans about the security of our borders.

But I believe we can work together to pass immigration reform in a way that unites the people in this country, not in a way that divides us by playing on our worst instincts and fears.

Like millions of Americans, the immigrant story is also my story. My father came here from Kenya, and I represent a State where vibrant immigrant communities ranging from Mexican to Polish to Irish enrich our cities and neighborhoods. So I understand the allure of freedom and opportunity that fuels the dream of a life in the United States. But I also understand the need to fix a broken system.

When Congress last addressed this issue comprehensively in 1986, there were approximately 4 million illegal immigrants living in the United States. That number had grown substantially when Congress again addressed the issue in 1996. Today, it is estimated that there are more than 11 million undocumented aliens living in our country.

The American people are a welcoming and generous people. But those who enter our country illegally, and those who employ them, disrespect the rule of law. And because we live in an age where terrorists are challenging our borders, we simply cannot allow people to pour into the United States undetected, undocumented, and unchecked. Americans are right to demand better border security and better enforcement of the immigration laws.

The bill the Judiciary Committee has passed would clearly strengthen enforcement. I will repeat that, because those arguing against the Judiciary Committee bill contrast that bill with a strong enforcement bill. The bill the Judiciary Committee passed clearly strengthens enforcement.

To begin with, the agencies charged with border security would receive new technology, new facilities, and more people to stop, process, and deport illegal immigrants. But while security might start at our borders, it doesn't end there. Millions of undocumented immigrants live and work here without our knowing their identity or their background. We need to strike a workable bargain with them. They have to acknowledge that breaking our immigration laws was wrong. They must pay a penalty, and abide by all of our laws going forward. They must earn the right to stay over a 6-year period, and then they must wait another 5 years as legal permanent residents before they become citizens.

But in exchange for accepting those penalties, we must allow undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and step on a path toward full participation in our society. In fact, I will not support any bill that does not provide this earned path to citizenship for the undocumented population--not just for humanitarian reasons; not just because these people, having broken the law, did so for the best of motives, to try and provide a better life for their children and their grandchildren; but also because this is the only practical way we can get a handle on the population that is within our borders right now.

To keep from having to go through this difficult process again in the future, we must also replace the flow of undocumented immigrants coming to work here with a new flow of guestworkers. Illegal immigration is bad for illegal immigrants and bad for the workers against whom they compete.

Replacing the flood of illegals with a regulated stream of legal immigrants who enter the United States after background checks and who are provided labor rights would enhance our security, raise wages, and improve working conditions for all Americans.

But I fully appreciate that we cannot create a new guestworker program without making it as close to impossible as we can for illegal workers to find employment. We do not need new guestworkers plus future undocumented immigrants. We need guestworkers instead of undocumented immigrants.

Toward that end, American employers need to take responsibility. Too often illegal immigrants are lured here with a promise of a job, only to receive unconscionably low wages. In the interest of cheap labor, unscrupulous employers look the other way when employees provide fraudulent U.S. citizenship documents. Some actually call and place orders for undocumented workers because they don't want to pay minimum wages to American workers in surrounding communities. These acts hurt both American workers and immigrants whose sole aim is to work hard and get ahead. That is why we need a simple, foolproof, and mandatory mechanism for all employers to check the legal status of new hires. Such a mechanism is in the Judiciary Committee bill.

And before any guestworker is hired, the job must be made available to Americans at a decent wage with benefits. Employers then need to show that there are no Americans to take these jobs. I am not willing to take it on faith that there are jobs that Americans will not take. There has to be a showing. If this guestworker program is to succeed, it must be properly calibrated to make certain that these are jobs that cannot be filled by Americans, or that the guestworkers provide particular skills we can't find in this country.

I know that dealing with the undocumented population is difficult, for practical and political reasons. But we simply cannot claim to have dealt with the problems of illegal immigration if we ignore the illegal resident population or pretend they will leave voluntarily. Some of the proposed ideas in Congress provide a temporary legal status and call for deportation, but fail to answer how the government would deport 11 million people. I don't know how it would be done. I don't know how we would line up all the buses and trains and airplanes and send 11 million people back to their countries of origin. I don't know why it is that we expect they would voluntarily leave after having taken the risk of coming to this country without proper documentation.

I don't know many police officers across the country who would go along with the bill that came out of the House, a bill that would, if enacted, charge undocumented immigrants with felonies, and arrest priests who are providing meals to hungry immigrants, or people who are running shelters for women who have been subject to domestic abuse. I cannot imagine that we would be serious about making illegal immigrants into felons, and going after those who would aid such persons.

That approach is not serious. That is symbolism, that is demagoguery. It is important that if we are going to deal with this problem, we deal with it in a practical, commonsense way. If temporary legal status is granted but the policy says these immigrants are never good enough to become Americans, then the policy that makes little sense.

I believe successful, comprehensive immigration reform can be achieved by building on the work of the Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee bill combines some of the strongest elements of Senator Hagel's border security proposals with the realistic workplace and earned-citizenship program proposed by Senators McCain and Kennedy.

Mr. President, I will come to the floor over the next week to offer some amendments of my own, and to support amendments my colleagues will offer. I will also come to the floor to argue against amendments that contradict our tradition as a nation of immigrants and as a nation of laws.

As FDR reminded the Nation at the 50th anniversary of the dedication of the Statue of Liberty, those who landed at Ellis Island ``were the men and women who had the supreme courage to strike out for themselves, to abandon language and relatives, to start at the bottom without influence, without money, and without knowledge of life in a very young civilization.''

It behooves us to remember that not every single immigrant who came into the United States through Ellis Island had proper documentation. Not every one of our grandparents or great-grandparents would have necessarily qualified for legal immigration. But they came here in search of a dream, in search of hope. Americans understand that, and they are willing to give an opportunity to those who are already here, as long as we get serious about making sure that our borders actually mean something.

Today's immigrants seek to follow in the same tradition of immigration that has built this country. We do ourselves and them a disservice if we do not recognize the contributions of these individuals. And we fail to protect our Nation if we do not regain control over our immigration system immediately.

Energy Independence and the Safety of Our Planet

The AP Annual Luncheon, Chicago, IL| April 03, 2006

Energy Independence and the Safety of Our PlanetIn April of 2005, Elizabeth Kolbert did a series of articles for The New Yorker about climate change. In one of those articles, she tells a very interesting story about some of the effects we're already seeing from global warming.

About fifteen years ago, in the furthest reaches of Alaska, the people of a small, thousand-year-old, oceanfront hunting village noticed something odd. The ice that surrounded and protected the village, which is only twenty feet above sea level, began to grow slushy and weak. Soon, it began to freeze much later in the fall and melt much earlier in the spring.

As the ice continued to melt away at an alarming pace during the 1990s, the village began to lose the protection it offered and became more vulnerable to storm surges. In 1997, the town completely lost a hundred-twenty-five-foot-wide strip of land at its northern edge. In 2001, a storm with twelve-foot waves destroyed dozens of homes. And finally, in the summer of 2002, with the storms intensifying, the ice melting, and the land shrinking all around them, the residents of Shishmaref were forced to move their entire town miles inland - abandoning their homes forever.

The story of the Village That Disappeared is by no means isolated. And it is by no means over.

All across the world, in every kind of environment and region known to man, increasingly dangerous weather patterns and devastating storms are abruptly putting an end to the long-running debate over whether or not climate change is real. Not only is it real, it's here, and its effects are giving rise to a frighteningly new global phenomenon: the man-made natural disaster.

For decades, we've been warned by legions of scientists and mountains of evidence that this was coming - that we couldn't just keep burning fossil fuels and contribute to the changing atmosphere without consequence. And yet, for decades, far too many have ignored the warnings, either dismissing the science as a hoax or believing that it was the concern of enviros looking to save polar bears and rainforests.

But today, we're seeing that climate change is about more than a few unseasonably mild winters or hot summers. It's about the chain of natural catastrophes and devastating weather patterns that global warming is beginning to set off around the world - the frequency and intensity of which are breaking records thousands of years old.

In Washington, issues come and go with the political winds. And they are generally covered through that prism: Who's up and who's down? Which party benefits? Which party loses?

But in these superficial exchanges, we often lose sight of the real and lasting meaning of the decisions we make and those we defer.

The issue of climate change is one that we ignore at our own peril. There may still be disputes about exactly how much we're contributing to the warming of the earth's atmosphere and how much is naturally occurring, but what we can be scientifically certain of is that our continued use of fossil fuels is pushing us to a point of no return. And unless we free ourselves from a dependence on these fossil fuels and chart a new course on energy in this country, we are condemning future generations to global catastrophe.

Just think about some of the trends we've seen.

Since 1980, we've experienced nineteen of the twenty hottest years on record - with 2005 being the hottest ever.

These high temperatures are drying up already dry land, causing unprecedented drought that's ruining crops, devastating farmers and spreading famine to already poor parts of the world. Over the last four decades, the percentage of the Earth's surface suffering drought has more than doubled. In the United States, the drought we experienced in 2002 was the worst in forty years. And in Africa, more rivers are beginning to dry up, threatening the water supply across the continent.

As more land becomes parched, more forests are starting to burn. Across Indonesia, throughout Alaska, and in the Western United States, wildfires have raged in recent years like never before. A new record was set in 2002, as more than 7 million acres burned from Oregon down to Arizona.

And while the situation on the land may look ugly, what's going on in the oceans is even worse. Hurricanes and typhoons thrive in warm water, and as the temperature has risen, so has the intensity of these storms. In the last thirty-five years, the percentage of Category 4 and 5 hurricanes has doubled, and the wind speed and duration of these storms has jumped 50%. A hurricane showed up in the South Atlantic recently when scientists said it could never happen. Last year, Japan set a new record when it suffered its tenth typhoon and the United States set a record for the most tornadoes we've ever had. And at one point, Hurricane Wilma was the most powerful storm ever measured.

These are all frightening situations, but perhaps none more so than what is beginning to occur at the North and South Poles. There, a satellite image from space or a trip to the region shows indisputable evidence that the polar ice caps are melting. But it's not just a slow, steady thaw that's been occurring over centuries, it's a rapidly accelerating meltdown that may eventually dump enough water into the ocean to annihilate coastal regions across the globe.

In 1996, a melting Greenland dumped about 22 cubic miles of water into the sea. Today, just ten years later, it's melting twice as fast. In real terms, this means that every single month, Greenland is dumping into the ocean an amount of water 54 times greater than the city of Los Angeles uses in an entire year. All in all, Greenland has enough ice to raise the global sea level 23 feet, making a New Orleans out of nearly every coastal city imaginable.

Indeed, the Alaskan village of Shishmaref could be just the beginning.

And yet, despite all the ominous harbingers of things to come, we do not have to stand by helplessly and accept this future. In fact, we can't afford to. Climate change may be unleashing the forces of nature, but we can't forget that this has been accelerated by man and can be slowed by man too.

By now, the culprit of this climate change is a familiar one, as is the solution. Last September, when I gave my first speech on energy, I talked about how our dependence on oil is hurting our economy, decimating our auto industry, and costing us millions of jobs. A few months ago, I discussed how the oil we import is jeopardizing our national security by keeping us tied to the world's most dangerous and unstable regimes. And when it comes to climate change, it's the fossil fuels we insist on burning - particularly oil - that are the single greatest cause of global warming and the damaging weather patterns that have been its result.

You'd think by now we'd get the point on energy dependence. Never has the failure to take on a single challenge so detrimentally affected nearly every aspect of our well-being as a nation. And never have the possible solutions had the potential to do so much good for so many generations to come.

Of course, many Americans have gotten this point, and it's true that the call for energy independence is now coming from an amazingly diverse coalition of interests. From farmers and businesses, military leaders and CIA officials, scientists and Evangelical Christians, auto executives and unions, and politicians of almost every political persuasion, people are realizing that an oil future is not a secure future for this country.

And yet, when it comes to finding a way to end our dependence on fossil fuels, the greatest vacuum in leadership, the biggest failure of imagination, and the most stubborn refusal to admit the need for change is coming from the very people who are running the country.

By now, the Bush Administration's record on climate change is almost legendary. This is the administration that commissioned government experts and scientists to do a study on global warming, only to omit the part from the final report that said it was caused by humans. This is the administration that didn't try to improve the Kyoto Treaty by trying to include oil guzzlers like China and India, but walked away from the entire global effort to stem climate change. And just recently, this is the administration that tried to silence a NASA scientist for letting the rest of us know that yes, climate change is a pretty big deal.

Meanwhile, it's pretty tough to make any real progress on this issue in Congress when the Chairman of the committee in charge of the environment thinks that, in the face of literally thousands of scientists and studies that say otherwise, global warming is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people." And you know it's bad when the star witness at his global warming hearing is a science fiction writer.

Now, after the President's last State of the Union, when he told us that America was addicted to oil, there was a brief moment of hope that he'd finally do something on energy.

I was among the hopeful. But then I saw the plan.

His funding for renewable fuels is at the same level it was the day he took office. He refuses to call for even a modest increase in fuel-efficiency standards for cars. And his latest budget funds less then half of the energy bill he himself signed into law - leaving hundreds of millions of dollars in under-funded energy proposals.

This is not a serious effort. Saying that America is addicted to oil without following a real plan for energy independence is like admitting alcoholism and then skipping out on the 12-step program. It's not enough to identify the challenge - we have to meet it.

See, there's a reason that some have compared the quest for energy independence to the Manhattan Project or the Apollo moon landing. Like those historic efforts, moving away from an oil economy is a major challenge that will require a sustained national commitment.

During World War II, we had an entire country working around the clock to produce enough planes and tanks to beat the Axis powers. In the middle of the Cold War, we built a national highway system so we had a quick way to transport military equipment across the country. When we wanted to pull ahead of the Russians into space, we poured millions into a national education initiative that graduated thousands of new scientists and engineers.

America now finds itself at a similar crossroads. As gas prices keep rising, the Middle East grows ever more unstable, and the ice caps continue to melt, we face a now-or-never, once-in-a-generation opportunity to set this country on a different course.

Such a course is not only possible, it's already being pursued in other places around the world. Countries like Japan are creating jobs and slowing oil consumption by churning out and buying millions of fuel-efficient cars. Brazil, a nation that once relied on foreign countries to import 80% of its crude oil, will now be entirely self-sufficient in a few years thanks to its investment in biofuels.

So why can't we do this? Why can't we make energy security one of the great American projects of the 21st century?

The answer is, with the right leadership, we can. We can do it by partnering with business, not fighting it. We can do it with technology we already have on the shelf. And we can do it by investing in the clean, cheap, renewable fuels that American farmers grow right here at home.

To deal directly with climate change, something we failed to do in the last energy bill, we should use a market-based strategy that gradually reduces harmful emissions in the most economical way. John McCain and Joe Lieberman are continuing to build support for legislation based on this approach, and Senators Bingaman and Domenici are also pursuing proposals that will cut carbon emissions. Right here in Chicago, the Chicago Climate Exchange is already running a legally binding greenhouse gas trading system.

The idea here is simple: if you're a business that can't yet meet the lower cap we'll put on harmful carbon emissions, you can either purchase credits from other companies that have achieved more than their emissions goal, or you can temporarily purchase a permit from the government, the money from which will go towards investments in clean energy technology. As Fred Krupp, the president of Environmental Defense has said, "Once you put a value on carbon reductions, you make winners out of innovators."

Any strategy for reducing carbon emissions must also deal with coal, which is actually the most abundant source of energy in this country. To keep using this fossil fuel, I believe we need to invest in the kind of advanced coal technology that will keep our air cleaner while still keeping our coal mines in business. Over the next two decades, power companies are expected to build dozens of new coal-fired power plants, and countries like India and China will build hundreds. If they use obsolete technology, these plants will emit over 60 billion tons of heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere. We need to act now and make the United States a leader in puting in place the standards and incentives that will ensure that these plants use available technology to capture carbon dioxide and dispose of it safely underground.
But of course, one of the biggest contributors to our climate troubles and our energy dependence is oil, and so any plan for the future must drastically reduce our addiction to this dirty, dangerous, and ultimately finite source of energy.

We can do this by focusing on two things: the cars we drive and the fuels we use.

The President's energy proposal would reduce our oil imports by 4.5 million barrels per day by 2025. Not only can we do better than that, we must do better than that if we hope to make a real dent in our oil dependency. With technology we have on the shelves right now and fuels we can grow right here in America, by 2025 we can reduce our oil imports by over 7.5. million barrels per day - an amount greater than all the oil we are expected to import from the entire Middle East.

For years, we've hesitated to raise fuel economy standards as a nation in part because of a very legitimate concern - the impact it would have on Detroit. The auto industry is right when they argue that transitioning to more hybrid and fuel-efficient cars would require massive investment at a time when they're struggling under the weight of rising health care costs, sagging profits, and stiff competition.

But it's precisely because of that competition that they don't have a choice. China now has a higher fuel economy standard than we do, and Japan's Toyota is doubling production of the popular Prius to sell 100,000 in the U.S. this year.

There is now no doubt that fuel-efficient cars represent the future of the auto industry. If American car companies hope to be a part of that future - if they hope to survive - they must start building more of these cars. This isn't just about energy - this is about the ability to create millions of new jobs and save an entire American industry.

But that's not to say we should leave the industry to face the transition costs on its own. Yes, we should raise fuel economy standards by 3% a year over the next fifteen years, starting in 2008. With the technology they already have, this should be an achievable goal for automakers. But we can help them get there.

Right now, one of the biggest costs facing auto manufacturers isn't the cars they make, it's the health care they provide. Health care costs make up $1,500 of the price of every GM car that's made - more than the cost of steel. Retiree health care alone cost the Big 3 automakers nearly $6.7 billion just last year.

I believe we should make the auto companies a deal that could solve this problem. It's a piece of legislation I introduced called "Health Care for Hybrids," and it would allow the federal government to pick up part of the tab for the auto companies' retiree health care costs. In exchange, the auto companies would then use some of that savings to build and invest in more fuel-efficient cars. It's a win-win proposal for the industry - their retirees will be taken care of, they'll save money on health care, and they'll be free to invest in the kind of fuel-efficient cars that are the key to their competitive future.

But building cars that use less oil is only one side of the equation. The other involves replacing the oil we use with the home-grown biofuels that will finally slow the warming of the planet. In fact, one study shows that using cellulosic ethanol fuel instead of oil can reduce harmful emissions by up to 75%.

Already, there are hundreds of fueling stations that use a blend of ethanol and gasoline known as E85, and there are millions of cars on the road with the flexible-fuel tanks necessary to use this fuel - including my own right here in Illinois.

But the challenge we face with these biofuels is getting them out of the labs, out of the farms, and onto the wider commercial market.

The federal government can help in a few ways here, and recently, I introduced the American Fuels Act with Senator Dick Lugar to get us started.

First, this legislation would reduce the risk of investing in renewable fuels by providing loan guarantees and venture capital to those entrepreneurs with the best plans to develop and sell biofuels on a commercial market.

Second, it would let the private sector know that there will always be a market for renewable fuels by creating an alternative diesel standard in this country that would blend millions of more gallons of renewable fuels into the petroleum supply each year.

Third, it would help make sure that every single new car in America is a flexible-fuel vehicle within a decade. Currently it costs manufacturers just $100 to add these tanks to each car. But we can do them one better. If they install flexible-fuel tanks in their cars before the decade's up, we will provide them a $100 tax credit to do it - so there's no excuse for delay. And we'd also give consumers a bargain by offering a 35 cents tax credit for every gallon of E85 they use.

Fourth, this legislation calls for a Director of Energy Security to oversee all of our efforts. Like the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and the National Intelligence Director, this person would be an advisor to the National Security Council and have the full authority to coordinate America's energy policy across all levels of government. He or she would approve all major budget decisions and provide a full report to Congress and the country every year detailing the progress we're making toward energy independence.

Finally, while it's not in the bill, we should also make sure that every single automobile the government purchases is a flexible-fuel vehicle - starting today. When it becomes possible in the coming years, we should also make sure that every government car is the type of hybrid that you can plug-in to an outlet and recharge.

As the last few residents of Shishmaref pack up their homes and leave their tiny seaside village behind, I can't help but think that right now, history is testing our generation.

Will we let this happen all over the world? Will we stand by while drought and famine, storms and floods overtake our planet? Or will we look back at today and say that this was the moment when we took a stand? That this was the moment when we began to turn things around?

The climate changes we are experiencing are already causing us harm. But in the end, it will not be us who deal with its most devastating effects. It will be our children, and our grandchildren.

I have two daughters, aged three and seven. And I can't help but think that they are the reason I wanted to make a difference in this country in the first place - to give them a better, more hopeful world to raise their children.

This is our generation's chance to give them that world. It's a chance that will not last much longer, but if we work together and seize this moment, we can change the course of this nation forever. I hope we can start today. Thank you.