CONYERS - In addressing the Conyers Rotary Club on Thursday, Sen. Saxby Chambliss hit on a number of hot-button issues, ranging from the federal Farm Bill, to the price of oil and the current mortgage crisis.
Oil and the environment
The senator told the noontime gathering that Americans must become less dependent on foreign oil by expanding exploration of domestic oil sources and developing biofuels.
Chambliss said failure to open up oil exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, in Alaska was one of the primary reasons why gasoline is approaching $4 a gallon at the pump.
The Republican from Moultrie said that advancements in oil exploration technology can limit, or even eliminate, possible damage to the environment - a concern that has kept a vote on oil exploration in ANWR from passing Congress.
Chambliss pointed out that "not one drop of oil" was spilled in the Gulf Coast when hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the region in 2005.
"We have to explore for more oil, and we know the oil is here," he said. "We're proposing to drill in the northern end (of ANWR) in an area the size of a golf course in a refuge that is the size of the state of Kansas."
Chambliss told club members the country should not depend solely on oil or renewable energy, like ethanol and biodiesel, to solve the nation's energy problems. He said each area of development is just another piece to the puzzle.
The senator was particularly optimistic when he spoke of the possibilities of making ethanol from waste wood left from harvesting pine trees. A facility is under construction in the south Georgia town of Soperton that would convert wood to fuel, and could make Georgia a player in the biofuels industry similar to Midwestern states where corn is plentiful, he said.
"We can't grow corn like they do in the Midwest because they have richer soil and more rainfall and shorter growing seasons than we do," Chambliss said. "But we can grow a pine tree like no one else can."
The federal farm bill
Chambliss then turned his attention to the recently passed $300 billion federal farm bill. He defended his support of the legislation and said "nothing could be further from the truth" than those criticisms that the bill provides large subsidies to rich farmers.
The senator said only 11 percent of the funding in the bill is going toward farm subsidies. He said the newly passed version is more selective in determining who is eligible to receive subsidies.
The farm bill also overhauls the federal Food Stamp program in an effort to eliminate fraud and waste, as well as expands a program to encourage school systems to purchase locally grown produce for their free school-lunch programs.
The mortgage crisis
Chambliss received a round of applause when he told the Rotary Club members not to expect the federal government to bail out mortgage companies or individuals who lost their homes to foreclosure during the subprime mortgage crisis.
"I don't think Congress is in the business to bail the mortgage industry," he said. "You've made the right decisions and not buying more house than you can afford, so I'm not going to spend your tax dollars to bail out people who have made bad decisions."
Chambliss supported a bill that would provide a $7,000 tax credit on purchases of foreclosed houses as a way to encourage reducing the inventory of those homes on the market, but that was about as far as he was willing to go.
"I wish we could bail everybody out, but we can't print enough money to do that and we shouldn't," Chambliss said. "We can help those who have lost their homes when they lose their job, but not for those who have made bad decisions."
Jay Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org