Ending our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Op-Ed

Date: July 10, 2008


Ending our Dependence on Fossil Fuels

Dear Friends,

In Central New Jersey, gas prices have exceeded four dollars a gallon. Family budgets are being stretched to the breaking point, and like you I am concerned about the impact these prices are having on American consumers. While there is no easy solution to our energy crisis, we should take a thoughtful, fact-based approach that examines how we got here, how to help families struggling with rising gas and fuel oil prices in the short term, and how to develop a long-term strategy that decreases our dependence on foreign oil and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions.

Today's energy crisis is based on a generation of failed policies excessively dependent on fossil fuels. Instead of learning from those mistakes, some in Congress still think we can drill our way out of this crisis. The facts indicate otherwise. The U.S. consumes 25 percent of the world's oil, but only possesses two percent of its reserves. To the extent the price of gasoline is a problem with supply and demand, no amount of increased drilling in the U.S. will affect the world supply enough to lower prices. And even if we drill everywhere we will never be able to produce half of the oil we use. Moreover, oil industries already lease most of the land where oil is believed to exist. There are 68 million acres in the U.S. that are currently leased by oil companies and open to drilling but are not developed. According to the Energy Information Administration, offshore drilling in sensitive areas would increase domestic oil production by 7 percent by 2030. But, "because oil prices are determined on the international market…any impact on average wellhead prices is expected to be insignificant."

Furthermore, supply and demand alone do not account for soaring gas prices. There is strong evidence that speculation, price gouging, and profiteering also have a significant impact. According to the International Monetary Fund, "speculation has played a significant role in the run-up of oil prices." And the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC), the regulatory agency with the ability to oversee the trading marketplace, recently said that the increase in the price of oil over the last six years is dwarfed by the increase of speculation in the energy marketplace. Speculation is making us pay higher prices for oil before it is even pumped out of the ground. Oil companies are paying now about $80 to produce a barrel of hard-to-get oil. Most of the difference between this price and the $143 is speculation and profits, some justified, some unjustified. However, loopholes in current law do not allow the CFTC to be effective. I recently supported H.R. 6377, the Energy Markets Emergency Act of 2008, which would help the CFTC prosecute excessive speculation, price distortion, unwarranted changes in prices, or other unlawful activities that are causing major disturbances in the oil market. This bill passed the House with my support and is pending consideration in the Senate.

There also is a serious concern that oil companies may be taking advantage of this oil crisis and are artificially inflating prices. In a national investigation of 23 gas wholesalers and 24 gas retailers, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) found that eight had artificially increased prices. Despite these findings, under current law the FTC and the Department of Justice (DOJ) do not have the ability to prosecute those taking advantage of Americans at the pump. In June, I voted in favor of H.R. 6346, the Federal Price Gouging Prevention Act, which would for the first time set a clear definition of price gouging and allow the FTC and DOJ to prosecute those engaged in the practice. I supported the bill, but it failed to secure the two-thirds required for expedited passage.

In addition to addressing this issue with short-term solutions, we would serve future generations well by developing a sound long-term strategy to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels, something I have advocated for decades.

Congress and the President already have enacted legislation requiring our cars to be more fuel efficient, raising the Corporate Fuel Economy Standard for the first time in 32 years, to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. We also should end the federal government's subsidies to the oil and gas industry and use that money to expand tax incentives on a variety of renewable energy sources. The House of Representatives has passed legislation that would eliminate these tax breaks several times. However, the Senate has failed to act on these initiatives. We should encourage the construction of more energy efficient schools and other buildings, and I am sponsoring legislation that would do this. We also must increase the use of intelligent transportation systems like real-time traffic monitoring, alternate route planning, and congestion management that could decrease the amount of fuel wasted in traffic every day. Earlier this year, I wrote legislation on this that President Bush signed.

I continue to work to improve our nation's energy policy, and I welcome your thoughts and ideas. I also would appreciate learning what you are doing to change your energy consumption to lower energy costs. Please email those ideas so I can share them with my colleagues in Congress and with our neighbors in Central New Jersey by posting them on my website and in a future electronic newsletter.

Upcoming Town Hall Meetings

As you may be aware, I frequently convene town hall meetings throughout the five counties and forty-four towns of the 12th Congressional District. The purpose of these town hall meetings is for you to tell me about issues that are affecting you, your family, and our community, and for me to update you on some of the work that I have been doing in Washington D.C. and in New Jersey. I invite you to participate in one of the following town hall meetings, including two meetings you can join by phone:

Saturday, July 12 from 10-11:30 a.m. - Lambertville (Justice Complex, 25 South Union St.)

Saturday, July 12 from 2:30-4 p.m. - Trenton with an emphasis on foreclosure and housing issues (Mercer County Community College, James Kearney Campus, 102 North Broad Street)

Sunday, July 13 from 2-3:30 p.m. - Marlboro (Robertsville Fire Company #1, 94 County Route 520, Morganville)

Monday, July 21 from 7-8:30 p.m. - Oceanport with an emphasis on climate change (Municipal Building Council Chambers, 222 Monmouth Blvd.)

Sunday, July 27 from 2-3:30 p.m. - Holmdel (Municipal Building Council Chambers, 4 Crawfords Corner Road)

Monday, July 28 from 7:30-8:30 p.m. - Telephone Town Hall (Dial 1-866-447-5149 and when prompted enter the pin 13864)

Tuesday, August 12 from 7-8:30 p.m. - South River with an emphasis on the economy (Council Chambers, Justice Complex, 61 Main Street)

If you have any questions, please call my district office at 609-750-9365 or 1-877-874-4658 or visit my website.

Cutting Through Red Tape

Recently, a Monroe Township resident contacted me because her prescription drug plan, which was previously paying for her medications, suddenly denied her coverage. I immediately contacted the compliance director of her insurance company and was able to help restore her prescription coverage.

The federal bureaucracy can be difficult to navigate, whether you are having difficulty receiving a check from the Social Security Administration, trying to obtain a visa or passport from the State Department, or struggling to get Veterans Affairs benefits. As your representative in Congress, I can act as your liaison to make sure you are treated fairly. I can often intervene on a person's behalf to answer questions, to obtain needed information, or, to cut through red tape.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you need help with a federal agency. You can learn more at www.holt.house.gov and click on "I Need Assistance."

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If you found this email informative and would like to continue to receive updates about my work on your behalf, I encourage you to sign up to receive my periodic e-mail newsletter, the eGenda. Click here to sign up.

Sincerely,

RUSH HOLT
Member of Congress


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