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This is the text version of the 2016 Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting Plenary – Keynote Address video. The Honorable Byron Dorgan, U.S. Senate (retired) presented the keynote address at the 2016 DOE Hydrogen and Fuel Cells Program and Vehicle Technologies Office Annual Merit Review and Peer Evaluation Meeting. Senator Dorgan was introduced by David Friedman, Acting Assistant Secretary, Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.

David Friedman:

Now I've talked for way too long and I know what you're really waiting for is to hear from our special guest today. So what I want to do is just say a few words about Senator Dorgan who I've interacted with multiple times throughout my career and have seen him as a true hero and a true leader when it comes to clean energy, transportation, and especially hydrogen.

He has done so much in this space, for example, on fuel cells, that he is, I would argue, one of the most deserving recipients ever of the U.S. Fuel Cell Council's Lifetime Achievement Award. It's a great honor and you've earned it well. He has also served on the board of directors at Argonne National Labs, one of our great national laboratories. And he's helping them and their great work to drive exciting technologies into the marketplace and out of R&D, many of the technologies you're seeing today.

Now since leaving Congress, Senator Dorgan has been busy. He's been a visiting professor at Georgetown University, a senior policy adviser at a Washington D.C. law firm, a senior fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center and active on several boards of directors. Turns out he's also a New York Times bestselling author having published two books about economic issues and co-authored two novels. Very impressive. The latest of which is called Gridlock, hmm, I wonder what that's about.

You could just go on and on without that one. I'm truly thankful, Senator Dorgan, that you're here today and that we have the opportunity to hear from you and to celebrate all the great leadership you've provided in this space. So please, everyone, welcome Senator Dorgan. [Applause]

Byron Dorgan:

Well, David, thank you very, very much. I'm such a big fan of all of you and the work you're doing and I appreciate the opportunity and the invitation to come. David, it is so very hard to follow a speaker who quotes The Beatles. [Laughter]. So let me quote Elvis Presley, "A little less conversation, a little more action please." And he of course was talking about funding for energy research. [Laughter]

I come from a very different background than most in this room perhaps. I came from a very small town, a town of 300 people. It's where I spent my first 18 years. I went to a high school with a senior class of nine; I was in the top five [Laughter]. And we, as you might imagine, had very little science instruction in a high school with four grades and 40 children or 40 kids in all four grades.

However, nonetheless, I have been fascinated by these issues of science and research. And over the period of time I went to the U.S. Senate and became the chairman of the panel that funded our nation's energy projects and had a funding base of about I think $34 billion to spread around a wide range of issues, and became very interested in our national laboratories, in the research we were doing at the Department of Energy. I think it is extraordinary.

I mean, they say the world is run by those who show up, that's for sure. But it is also run by those who show up and do the research and have the vision, and that applies to all of you. When I was elected to the Congress, first I was in the U.S. House and then later for the last 18 years the U.S. Senate. When I was elected, I went to the office of Claude Pepper, the oldest person in the Congress and just wanted to meet him. I had heard a lot about Claude Pepper, he's the oldest member of Congress.

And on his wall there were two photographs, I've never forgotten. One is Orville Wright making the first airplane flight, December 17, 1903, autographed to Congressman Claude Pepper, "With admiration, Orville Wright." And just below it was Neil Armstrong stepping foot on the moon and autographed again. The first person to leave on powered flight place—on the planet Earth—and the first person to step on the moon.

And that was 1903 to 1969. And I thought those two photographs were only about five inches apart on the wall, but what did that five inches represent in terms of knowledge and education and research and creating over and over again the things that we needed to have that happen? And I want to read to you a rather lengthy paragraph today, if I might, just because it is the one paragraph that has so inspired me when I think about research and science and what is possible.

This is John F. Kennedy at Rice University in 1962. He said the following, "If I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all of the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food, and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to Earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds over 25,000 miles an hour, creating heat about half that of the temperature of the sun, and do all of this and do it right and do it first before this decade is out – then we must be bold."

What a charter. What a vision. And this country did that. What a remarkable thing. Now, the amount of research that creates the opportunity in this country to build our future is quite remarkable. And much of it is happening in the chairs that you occupy by people who are helping build a different future.

It is time and circumstance in which energy and the environment come together, and virtually everything we now do with energy has to do as well with the environment. In your work, this work in advanced vehicles and technology, in hydrogen fuel cells and the work that Sunita and Christy do and her team does and that Reuben and David do at the Department of Energy is so important.

Now let me give you a notion of how all of this fits. We used to have an organization called SETI, Search for Extraterrestrial Existence. And we looked pretty hard actually to try to find somebody out there but couldn't. So to the extent we know, this is the only place in the universe where life exists, to the best that we know. So that's planet Earth; we're all travelers on this ship, planet Earth.

And today is Monday, and so today, 350,000 babies will be born on planet Earth. And today we'll have 150,000 funerals. That means we will have added, at the end of today when we all go to bed, we will have added 200,000 new citizens to planet Earth. Not just today, every day, seven days a week. That's a Dallas, Texas, a week. I don't know what that means to you. [Laughter]

Maybe I could use a different reference, but think of that. Now these people that are coming to our planet, they're using social media when they grow up, they see what others have. They are gonna want to have refrigerators, perhaps. They'd like a little air conditioning and I guarantee you they're gonna want to drive a vehicle of some type. And so contemplate a couple of hundred million additional vehicles on the face of this Earth and then ask yourself, what about propulsion? What about fuel? What kind of vehicle and what's that mean to one of the greatest challenges facing our planet today?

And that is the issue of climate change and how we address it, and that's exactly where you fit. It's where these programs fit. It's why I have been such a strong believer in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. I've also worked very hard on electric vehicles. I introduced legislation to help create in various cities infrastructure for electric vehicles and so on. I support everything, but hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, I had a big fight with the then Secretary of Energy about that. I was chairing the panel that funds energy and he sent me a budget that's we're gonna zero out every research project on hydrogen fuel cells.

And he took it from $190 million dollars to zero. And so we had a meeting and I said, "I'll tell you what I'm gonna do. I'm gonna put all $190 million dollars back in my appropriations bill and I guarantee you it's gonna stay there." And I rode that through to the president's signature and saved the $190 million dollars. He didn't like it, but the fact is it was the right thing to do because even that Energy Secretary ultimately changed his mind and said, "You know what, I think there's some value and some worth in trying to pursue these issues of hydrogen fuel cell vehicles."

At a time when we are worried about carbon emissions, at a time when we face a future that we know will be a lower carbon future and must be a lower carbon future, producing vehicles that emit water vapor out the tail pipe and powered by the most ubiquitous fuel on the planet, boy, that just makes a lot of sense. Now, do you all remember the notion of earmarks in Congress? Well, I sure miss them. [Laughter]

And they didn't increase spending, by the way. When there is no earmarks, it just goes on to agency. But when we had earmarks, I did a project in North Dakota, just a little special project that said, all right, we're gonna use two wind towers to produce electricity and through the process of electrolysis separate hydrogen from water. We're gonna produce hydrogen from wind and we're gonna store the hydrogen and use it in three pickup trucks, they're gonna run out of hydrogen.

And we did it and it works and it's not even very complicated. And so the fact is we can do a lot of these things that you all are working on. I know you're working on hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Sunita and I have talked a lot about the progress and congratulations on the progress. But you're working on advanced vehicle technology and Christy and I've talked about that. And it has to do with lightweighting and new propulsion systems and so on. All of this contributes right to the sweet spot of what we need to do in policy choices dealing with what I said was one of the great challenges for our country, and that is climate change.

I don't mean just our country, I mean the world, but this country has the shoulders and the responsibility to lead. And that's why these projects that you all are working on is just so very, very important.

Now there was a story about a radio announcer who was interviewing a 85-year-old guy and he said to the guy, "You sure have seen a lot of changes in your 85 years, haven't you?" The guy said, "Yeah, I sure have and I've been against every one of them." [Laughter]

And you and I know there are people like that. They're just against everything. It won't be done, can't be done, won't work. The fact is it's the creators, the innovators, and the builders and that includes all of you, that decide it can work. Will make it work. Will find that new solution, will find that new approach.

I served in the Congress with John Glenn who is a great—you know, America's great astronaut, then was a senator from Ohio. And John Glenn said to me at one point. We'd be talking about things and he said to me, "When you go on the dark side of the planet," when he was orbiting the Earth, "you go on the dark side of the planet, the human's use of energy is the only evidence that human life exists on the planet." Look down and see it. See the light, see the use of energy. That's the evidence of human life.

John also said, by the way, when I asked, "Were you nervous?" Because the first American to orbit the Earth. He said, "Well, what bothered me was I knew there was 145,000 working parts all produced by the lowest bidder." [Laughter] So John really did have a sense of humor. Let me also say that this issue of progress and invention is just such a hallmark of our country.

We are about four miles today from the spot just on the other side of Arlington Cemetery, where five years after Orville first flew for 59 seconds—you remember Orville took off and flew for 59 seconds. But people say, I don't know whether you've read the book by McCullough but it's a great book about the Wright brothers, people say—I mean they tried like 700 times before that. So this wasn't just let's try it and we're gonna fly.

Five years after that in the year 1908, Wilbur Wright was taking a flight and he was gonna carry Tom Selfridge, a lieutenant from the Department of the Army on his flight. Five years later. You know, they took off at Kitty Hawk and five years later they're flying around here at 100 feet and 40 miles an hour and they crashed just a few miles from here and Lieutenant Selfridge was killed. Progress is sometimes about setbacks.

But that didn't change the fact that you flew here on an airplane, many of you, that comes from the progress began in 1903 and, yes, 1908 and beyond. I once read about when Fulton, who built the steam engine, talked to Napoleon at length about the steam engine. And Napoleon listened and listened and listened and finally said, "Wait a second, you're telling me that you will get a ship to sail against the wind by lighting a fire under its deck? I have no time for that nonsense." But Fulton did.

My first car was a 1924 Model T. I bought it for $25. It had been sitting in a granary for 40 years and I restored it. And so that was my first, as a teenager, my first acquaintance with an automobile. I didn't keep it long because I learned quickly that you can't get a date in a 1924 Model T so I sold it to a kid from Montana who wouldn't have known that. [Laughter]

But so my Model T and so fast forward to a Tesla or a driverless car or fast forward to all the things that just make our brain rattle, the Hyperloop. Does anybody know what the Hyperloop – let's see some hands. Anybody know what the Hyperloop is? We're building it in this country, right? We're starting. It's pretty unbelievable, in a pneumatic tube. We're gonna go from San Francisco to Los Angeles in 24 minutes. And David, I think you're gonna be the first to try it from what I hear. [Laughter]

But listen, my point is pretty simple. My point is it is unbelievable what we have done and what we've accomplished, especially in transportation. But what's even more unbelievable is what is possible ahead of us with the piece-by-piece research that is done 100 corners in this room because that—it's gonna change the future. And it has to, it must, because we're gonna have a few future with these challenges that have to be met with innovation.

Now I want to thank the Department of Energy especially and the professionals who run these programs. They don't get a lot of credit. You certainly will and do from time to time hear if they fail, and that's fine.  That's the way it is. But there's a great many successes that Reuben and David and Sunita and Christy are involved in. And I want to say thanks to them for the consistent management on things that really matter to this country.

And then I want to say this, and I want to make sure you understand that there is nothing political about it. That's important. This is a great country. It is a great country right now and this country, when you travel around the planet and many of you have, and look back at the United States of America, it is unique in the world. And this is the country that has always been the definition of progress. It's the strongest economy in the world by far right now. It's the country that has invented radar, nylon, plastics, the telephone, a television, the internet, the computer, cured smallpox, cured polio.

I could talk about this forever. This is a great place. It's a place full of innovation. We build airplanes, learn to fly them. We built rockets, we flew to the moon and we left boot prints on the surface of the moon. We did that in this country. And it's important, it seems to me, to continually remind ourselves that this accident by birth of being born here is quite a wonderful thing. And I want to repeat something I said when I was asked to come last year because I think it's important for us to understand always and to remember forever.

I was leading a group of senators and congressmen from our country to meet with the Europeans from the European Parliament. And we were discussing trade and we had a big dispute, about 18 people around a table. The chair from their side was Mr. Rocard from France and I was chairing our side. And we spoke for about an hour, somewhat heated from time to time, and finally Mr. Rocard leaned forward in his chair and he said this. He said, "Mr. Senator, we've been debating for about an hour about the disagreements between us, Europe and the United States."

He said, "You should know something about me." He said, "I was a 14-year-old boy standing on the street corner of Paris, France, when the liberation army from the United States marched up the Champs-Elysees." And he said, "An American soldier reached out his hand and gave that 14-year-old boy an apple as he marched by." He said, "Mr. Senator, I'm gonna go to my grave remembering that moment, what it meant to me, what it meant to my family, and what it meant to my country."

And I just kind of sat back in my chair and I thought, "Oh my God, here's this guy telling me who we are, what we've done, and where we've been and what it means to the rest of the world." It's important for all of us to always understand what that means for us. And the things that you do every single day contributed to that much larger purpose of creating and building a better future and helping meet one of the central challenges faced by this planet. That's also an important part of who we are and what we do. Thank you very much. [Applause]