Summer is upon us and countless Americans will soon be hitting the road for annual family vacations and weekend getaways. Over the years, drivers have come to expect increased prices at the pump during the summer months, as domestic demand for gasoline reaches its highest levels. But as the 2011 summer season begins, the price of gasoline is already precariously high across the country and may fluctuate unpredictably from week to week.
Today’s high energy prices are squeezing family budgets and threatening to derail an already anemic economic recovery. Pennsylvania families spent nearly 7% of their monthly income on gasoline last month. Spending more of their hard-earned money to fill their gas tanks, many Americans have turned to Congress for help. While little can be done to provide immediate relief, there are steps the government can take to promote long term stability.Recently, I supported several pieces of legislation that will help stabilize fuel prices by expanding access to and increasing the production of our country’s abundant oil and natural gas reserves. Of particular importance, these proposals would end the Obama Administration’s de facto moratorium on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Through deliberate inaction on pending permit applications, the Department of the Interior has stifled new production in the Gulf, causing a supply decrease of 240,000 barrels of oil per day by its own estimates. Advancing legislation to reform today’s unreasonably sluggish permitting process will generate thousands of jobs and increase the production of American energy.
When gas prices reached record highs in 2008, Congress and President Bush came together in a bipartisan manner to lift the offshore drilling ban that had been in place for decades. Unfortunately, President Obama has unilaterally reinstated the ban and declared even more coastal areas off limits to drilling.
Absent action by the Administration, I voted last month to require Interior to move forward on canceled lease sales and open the most promising offshore areas for development. By expanding access to areas with vast reserves of oil and natural gas, it is estimated we may triple offshore production over the next 15 years, significantly decreasing our reliance on foreign oil. Taking these steps today would help stabilize prices at the pump by sending a clear message to OPEC and global energy markets that America is dedicated to increasing our domestic fuel supply.
Sadly, these proposals are likely to be rejected by the Administration, which believes high fuel prices are a necessary evil to accelerate our transition to cleaner sources of energy. As a candidate in 2008, President Obama responded to surging gas prices by saying he “would have preferred a gradual adjustment”, but felt record high prices would result in a “more efficient energy policy.” Dr. Steven Chu, Secretary of the Department of Energy, once stated that to modify American energy utilization “we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe”, where gas currently averages $8.50 per gallon.
While Americans call for lower gas prices, this Administration appears satisfied with today’s high rates, believing they will allow alternatives to become more economically competitive. In their view, any expansion of domestic oil and natural gas production is as an obstacle to making alternative energy viable.
Remarkably, President Obama made a $2 billion commitment to Brazil this year to enhance its oil and natural gas production, proclaiming “we want to be one of your best customers.” Promising significant financial support to an international competitor, while standing in the way of domestic production and job creation, is inexplicable. Recently, President Obama announced he intended to extend existing drilling permits in the Gulf, schedule annual lease sales in Alaska and form a task force to study drilling off the Alaskan and Atlantic coasts. While I welcome these small steps, they fall well short of the action taken by the House. The President has failed to address troubling delays in the permitting process, and simply promising to speed up studies off our coasts is no guarantee drilling will ever occur. The majority of the President’s announcement was spent proposing higher taxes on American energy producers, an unrealistic approach that will not expand supply or provide relief at the pump. I believe we must eliminate or limit many business deductions, credits and loopholes, while simultaneously lowering tax rates for all businesses, but targeting American energy producers with punitive tax increases would ultimately cost consumers more not less.
I share the goal of developing a clean energy economy, but I do not believe American families must suffer through high gas prices to achieve it. Until our nation establishes a vibrant alternative energy infrastructure, we must be realistic about the role of fossil fuels in our immediate future. Proposals to better harness domestic energy resources will provide greater stability during this transition by lessening our dependence on foreign oil and allowing us to exercise greater influence on our own energy costs. For tips on improving the mileage of your car and reducing the amount of money you spend on gasoline this summer, please visit: www.fueleconomy.gov. This website, maintained by the Department of Energy, can also help you find the best prices for gasoline in your area and provides useful information for consumers who may be interested in purchasing a more fuel efficient vehicle.
As always, if you would like to share your views with me on American energy development or a specific piece of federal legislation, please do not hesitate to contact my office.
Congressman Charlie Dent