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Time to Reexamine Our Dependency on Fossil Fuels

The year 2005 exposed America's dangerous dependence on fossil fuel.  No sooner had the American public been shaken by the human devastation of hurricanes Katrina and Rita than they were forced to face the financial devastation of sudden and steep hikes in gas prices at the pump.  Fossil fuel prices climbed at record speeds in the summer of 2005, and they are climbing again this winter.  Consumers are being fleeced by an oil industry that is reaping big profits and the economic future of our country hangs in the balance, and Congress is once again missing in action.

In September of 2005, the average price at the gas pump was just over a dollar more than it was in 2004.  Gas prices finished 41 cents higher in 2005 than they were in 2004.  This winter, families will be forced to spend three times as much for home heating oil than they did just five years ago.  Every dollar consumers spend on fossil fuel is a dollar not spent at a local business or a dollar not invested in the future.  It is a dollar that supports the corporate jackals that are running up prices, and the elite class of undemocratic rulers who manage gas reserves in the Middle East.

This is not the American way.  It is the wrong way.  

America is being confronted with a real problem. It is high time we find real solutions. Our energy future is our choice.  An insecure energy future need not be our fate.

After five years of wrangling over energy legislation in Congress, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives delivered two energy bills in August and October that were cynical attempts to exploit the energy crisis we are facing to provide further financial incentives for energy companies.  Each bill failed to promote fuel efficiency standards, fuel alternatives, and renewable resources. Each failed to invest in sufficient energy research and technology to boost our independence.   Congress missed a perfect opportunity to send a signal to the world that we are not beholden to oil soaked countries in the Middle East.       

In a three month period, the powerful oil industry twice hit pay dirt while the American public was left in the dust - without enough money to start their engines.

I want to propose a bold set of actions that Congress should immediately take to stem the bleeding at the gas pump and secure our energy future.

First, our government must stop providing corporate welfare to wildly profitable energy companies.  The government should focus on protecting the public by investigating oil companies that are suspected of price gouging. On September 1, 2005, I sent a letter to the Administration requesting that they launch an investigation into market manipulation and abuse.

The federal government must be empowered to impose tough penalties of up to $100 million on corporations if gouging does occur.  It should follow the commendable example that New Jersey set when it led the way in rapidly pursuing and prosecuting gas price gougers.

Secondly, we must have a relief program set up for consumers when energy costs spike.  Fines imposed on price gouging companies can be used to fully fund, and expand programs such as the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). According to the National Energy Assistance Directors Association in New Jersey, 785,200 households are eligible for LIHEAP assistance.  Only 21.8 percent receive the assistance.     

Third, our leaders must apply political pressure to Middle Eastern countries that monopolize and manipulate oil production. Over two thirds of the world's oil supply rests underground in the Persian Gulf.  It is way past time that we stopped cozying up to dictators from countries that mistreat their citizens and tolerate extreme anti-American sentiment in their midst.

Fourth and perhaps most importantly, we must invest in fuel efficiency and alternative fuel technology.  New Jersey ranks third of all fifty states in length of commuting time, with an average twenty nine minute commute to work. Driving less is simply not a realistic option in much of New Jersey.  

Just as reaching the moon was the great technological feat of the last generation, achieving energy independence can be the mission of our next generation.  We must encourage struggling American automakers to invest in the marketplace of the future and return to the cutting edge of technological innovation.  If, by 2025, we were able to cut our oil demand by forty percent, we would be well on our way to a safer and cleaner future for all of our children.

Soaring fossil fuel prices are a kitchen table issue, a large scale economic threat, and a national security concern wrapped into one explosive package.  A perfect storm is coming.  Will we be prepared?

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.


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