The New Frontier

September 18, 2008

As reported in Huffington Post Green

Written by Pep. Louise Slaughter

I do not need to tell you that our nation is staring down the barrel of a huge energy crisis. Anyone who has filled up their gas tank, paid their home energy bill, ridden on an airplane, or bought groceries recently knows that the cost of gasoline and energy are sky-high which has caused the price of other commodities to soar as well. These exorbitant energy prices are taking their toll on American families across our nation. Hardworking Americans in all fifty states are struggling to make ends meet and are crying out for relief.

As we fight to lower energy prices and lay the groundwork for a clean, independent energy future, I can’t help but ask — how did we get here?

Eight years ago, two oilmen took the reins of America’s energy policy and have not looked back since. At the start of his first term, our oilman-in-chief, President Bush, stacked his energy task force with officials tied to the oil industry. Then he outsourced the writing of his energy plan to then-Enron CEO Ken Lay, who turned Enron’s priorities into our nation’s energy policy.

Even before that, Republicans were hard at work protecting big corporations when in 2000 then-Senator Phil Gramm slipped the “Enron-loophole” into an appropriations bill. This little loophole, which allowed everyone to trade in oil futures, was responsible for excessive oil speculation.

Experts have estimated that excessive oil speculation is responsible for adding $20 to $30 to a barrel of crude oil. Moreover, a recently released independent report conducted by Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management and Adam White of White Knight Research & Trading clearly demonstrated that it was not supply and demand driving oil prices up, but instead excessive speculation.

The cozy relationship between Republicans and oil companies was again exemplified by the recent revelation that administration officials at the Interior Department were improperly accepting gifts, using drugs, and engaging in sexual relationships with energy company employees. Yes, the administration is literally in bed with Big Oil.

What is almost more upsetting than this pervasive culture of cronyism is the complete lack of direction radiating from the White House on energy policy. During his 2006 State of the Union address President Bush declared that America was “addicted to oil” and promised to take the lead in breaking this addiction.

As we all know, the only way to break our addiction to fossil fuels is to invest steadily in renewable energy research and development. Even President Reagan understood this when, for example, he requested well over $100 million to fund geothermal energy research during his administration.

Yet in 2007 and 2008, President Bush requested zero funding for geothermal energy, and the Republican Congress in turn provided only $5 million and $20 million, respectively, for this much-needed research. How does this administration expect to wean Americans off of oil when its leaders fail to create a stable investment environment? How can Americans break their addiction when renewable energy researchers and developers cannot be sure that their research will be funded from one year to the next?

Enough is enough. After winning slim majorities in the House and Senate in the 2006 elections after 12 years under Republican control, this new Democratic-led Congress pledged to enact a 21st century energy policy that would lower prices and put our nation squarely on the path towards a clean, independent energy future. We are very proud that we have already passed key initiatives into law, including the enactment of the first new vehicle fuel efficiency standards in 32 years.

This week Democratic leaders in Congress unveiled comprehensive energy legislation that will build on the progress that we have already made and lower costs to consumers and American taxpayers, invest in renewable energy sources to create American jobs, expand domestic energy supply and create greater energy efficiency and conservation. This legislation is what the American people have demanded and what they have been waiting for.

More specifically, this bill addresses America’s energy crisis in both the short term and the long term:

By releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, we will immediately lower prices at the pump for American families struggling with high gas costs. We will replace this oil as gas prices stabilize.

Meanwhile, by investing billions of dollars over the long term in renewable energy, energy efficiency, and mass transportation, we will harness innovation and create good-paying American jobs while strengthening our energy security.

By expanding access to offshore oil reserves and encouraging responsible drilling, the bill promotes oil exploration and will lead to increased domestic energy production.

Since the ban of offshore drilling expires at the end of the month and we have no hope of persuading President Bush to sign a new ones, this bill ensures that oil companies will not be able to drill three miles off our coastlines but only at 50 miles out and only with the consent of the coastal state.

By promoting energy efficiency and conservation in buildings, thorough updated building codes and incentives for energy-efficient construction, this bill will lead to reduced energy use and lower utility bills.

Under this bill, we would enact our first national renewable electricity standard, where power companies would be required to generate fifteen percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2020, reducing air pollution from power plants and helping address the threat of global warming.

As Americans use more public transportation in the face of high gas prices, this bill will help transit agencies deal with the added costs of increased ridership by providing $1.7 billion in grants.

At a time of record-breaking oil company profits, this bill will require oil companies to pay their fair share by repealing tax subsidies they do not need and putting that money into alternatives, and requiring the federal government to collect oil royalties due to the American people.

This comprehensive energy legislation is the result of a serious effort on the part of this Congress to bring down gas prices now and invest in a clean renewable energy future. And it will provide this country with the American-owned energy policy that this Administration has failed to deliver in the past eight years.

I am pleased to announce that the House of Representatives passed this comprehensive energy bill on September 16, 2008 and sent it to the Senate for consideration. While I do not know if Vice President Cheney will let President Bush sign this bill, I do know that House leadership did not have any closed door meetings with energy companies to write it.

Not surprisingly, Republicans have brought forth their own bill that subscribes to the same Bush-Cheney energy policies written by and for big oil companies and corporations. Under their plan, Big Oil gets more land, more oil, more taxpayer dollars, and all the record profits, while American families get stuck paying record prices at the pump.

However, there is no need to fear. After years and years of Republican control over our government, the Democrats have come to town to put the brakes on the Republican record of failure and to pick up the pieces. We are proud of the progress that has been made and plan to go even further by bringing forth additional legislation to deal with excessive oil speculation soon. Let us hope that President Bush and the Republican Party allow us to finish the job.

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