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Public Statements

Kerry Opening Statement on Rising Gas Prices Hearing

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Kerry Opening Statement on Rising Gas Prices Hearing

Good morning. I want to thank our esteemed panel of witnesses for coming together today to discuss the impact of rising gas prices on America's small businesses, a crucial topic not only for America's small businesses, but for this nation's continued security and economic sustainability.

I am glad that Mr. Smith is able to join us today, and I'm looking forward to his testimony. Mr. Smith's company Federal Express got its start as a small business back in 1971, and its success was built in large part by servicing America's small businesses, so he is in a unique position to speak on how fuel prices are impacting both his company and his small business customers.

Mr. Smith also represents an important shift that is occurring in this country—the recognition among key business leaders that that our nation's energy policy is linked directly to our economy, our security and our environment. Without a strong energy policy that invests in efficiency and renewable energy sources, America is digging itself deeper into a hole.

Last month, Americans emptied their wallets at the pump, paying record prices that reached $3.22 a gallon according to the Department of Energy's Energy Information Administration. This price represented a 28 percent increase over a period of just 2 months, and a 52 percent increase since the end of January.

Rising prices underscore the increased attention that small business owners are paying to this issue. According to a survey conducted by the National Small Business Association (NSBA), 62 percent of small businesses use vehicles for delivery or customer transportation, and a majority of those who use vehicles travel more than 50 miles a day.

We'll hear from Administrator Caruso today that we're not simply dealing with a temporary spike in prices. The Energy Information Administration projects that gas prices will remain above $3.00 at least through the summer months. Meanwhile, small businesses like the ones we'll hear from today—businesses that operate close to the margin and that rely on vehicles every day to remain competitive—are struggling to keep up.

These are the same businesses coping with double digit increases in the cost of providing their employees health care--the same burgeoning entrepreneurs that we count on to create nearly 3/4ths of the jobs in this country. These businesses can no longer be expected to shoulder a burden created by price gouging oil companies and a government that has been reluctant to shift its priorities from serving the same old special interests. The good news is that right now, the Senate is debating legislation that would put the country on a clear path towards energy independence. In a single month, we could rewrite the shameful story of procrastination, manipulation and—most of all—failed leadership that has defined our energy policy for thirty years.

Democrats in the Senate are working to develop a comprehensive energy policy that will make America safer and will stabilize and lower fuel costs for small businesses and all Americans. But in order to effectively address energy security, the final legislation must include three components: 1) a major increase in the efficiency of all sources and uses of energy, from pickup trucks to fluorescent light bulbs; 2) dramatic incentives for all renewable energy sources, including the requirement that at least 20% of our energy come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020; and 3) a comprehensive plan to get clean coal technologies and carbon sequestration off the drawing board and under construction. Improving fuel economy is the cornerstone of the strategy to reduce our reliance on imported oil and to stabilize the volatile market for gasoline. Since America's second oil crisis in 1980, our oil imports have increased from 37% to 56%, but our passenger fleet averages 25 miles per gallon (mpg), the same as in 1981. Thankfully, small businesses are helping to contribute to a solution. Today there's a company in Massachusetts that has developed the technology for a plug-in hybrid car that gets 150 miles per gallon. The average American's commute is 40 miles—and this car can travel that far on batteries alone. Just think of the fuel savings if the average commute didn't require any fuel.

Senator McCain and I first proposed a 35 mpg increase to fuel standards in 2002, and I've supported efforts to move in this direction for my entire Senate career. The Commerce Committee has reported a bill that would achieve 35mpg by 2020. We must work to guarantee those improvements and fend off any efforts to weaken the Commerce bill on the floor. Second, we need to establish a mandate for renewable energy production. Over the last five years, 24 states and the District of Columbia have implemented local requirements that a certain percent of their energy comes from renewable sources by the year 2020. And yet Republicans continue to stand in the way of a federal Renewable Portfolio Standard. States are screaming for leadership on this issue, and I will once again fight for an aggressive renewable portfolio standard in this bill.

Finally, this energy bill doesn't adequately address our number one source of energy: coal. Coal is available, abundant and cheap, that's true-but it's also a huge source of US greenhouse gas emissions -1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide each year. Any energy bill worth the paper it's printed on should make dramatic investments in developing technologies for clean coal.

These are the first steps Congress must take to address the long term security and stability of this country's fuel supply. But there are other steps we can take in the short term to make sure our small businesses are protected against dramatic interruptions in fuel.

Today, I'm introducing legislation that creates an emergency fuel assistance program for small businesses in the event of a severe fuel interruption. Under this program, small businesses and farms that rely on fuel as a key operating cost would be eligible to receive grants to help them stay afloat during periods of extraordinarily high gas prices. This program could go a long way toward helping businesses operating close to the margin deal with costs that are beyond their control. I'm also reintroducing legislation to provide low interest SBA loans to small business owners dependent on fuel. This legislation has passed the Senate in two previous Congresses and would provide the capital that small business owners need to cope with extraordinarily high increases in fuel prices.

For too long, we've asked Americans to put up with an energy supply that is unstable and flat out dangerous. The path to energy security—a path that's being cut in the Senate as we speak—will lead to stability and lower prices at the pump. I look forward to hearing your testimonies today, and to working together to secure this nation's energy future.


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