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Column: Helping to Make America More Energy Independent

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Column: Helping to Make America More Energy Independent

By: Representative Michaud

As we enter the summer, more and more Maine families are hitting the roads in recreational vehicles. Others are towing boats to enjoy our coast, lakes and rivers. These activities are part of our way of life, but they are getting harder and harder to afford. In Maine, drivers are paying on average three dollars a gallon for gas these days: that's a lot of money and it really adds up.

At the same time, while we are entering the summer season now, Mainers also know that when winter comes we will face another set of high costs related to energy. Many of us will need to purchase heating fuel, and unfortunately, for many Maine families, this can be costly and really squeeze household budgets. In fact, many low income families and individuals simply don't have enough money to buy the fuel necessary to keep warm.

The increased cost of energy affects us all. We all feel it and understand that across the country, Americans are paying the price for our dependence on foreign oil.

If we are to achieve more energy independence we must ensure that our policies throughout our nation reflect a true commitment to changing the ways we obtain and consume our energy. In the House of Representatives, we have taken some good steps forward. We have passed a budget that creates room for a big increase in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) to help Maine families afford heating fuel this winter. We have also passed a bill that repeals $14 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for major oil companies in order to invest in clean, renewable, and alternative fuels and energy efficiency.

Now the House of Representatives is poised to take another step forward by passing the annual funding bill for the Department of Energy. This bill includes $3 billion - $1 billion more than the President's request - to work on new technologies and renewable alternatives to slow down global warming. This new investment in technology development will go toward biofuels such as corn-based and cellulosic ethanol and biodiesel; projects to make solar energy more affordable; new vehicle technologies and energy efficient buildings; and both hydropower and geothermal sources of energy.

To jumpstart this U.S.-led innovation and technological advancement, the bill also provides $116 million more than the President's request and $717 million more than the 2007 level for the most basic scientific research. Federal investment in long-term basic research is critical to developing the next generation of scientific breakthroughs. U.S. federal funding for research and development has declined steadily over the last decade and this bill helps reverse that course.

The bill also includes an increase in funding for a priority that I have been fighting for over the last few years: the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP). WAP was created by the federal government to encourage weatherization, which enables low-income families to permanently reduce their energy bills by making their homes more energy efficient. Unfortunately, the Energy Department has been severely under-funding this program.

We need to continue to give tools to Mainers to make improvements to their homes, to ensure that more families are warm come next winter and that they have more money for other priorities, like health care, rent, and paying the bills. The energy bill that we are considering restores important WAP funding for insulation and other cost-effective energy conservation measures and includes a dramatic increase over the funding request submitted by the Administration.

The new direction Congress is taking to lessen our dependence on foreign oil and cut our greenhouse gas emissions is long overdue. I will work with my colleagues to continue this Congress's commitment to these issues.


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