Finding Common-Sense Solutions to Rising Energy Costs
It is no secret the country is facing an energy crisis, and it has only grown worse over the last year. Those of us who drive each week have experienced firsthand the increasing financial pain at the pump. The price of a barrel of oil continues to hover around $100 while gasoline prices have risen to more than $3.00 from a national average of $2.33 one year ago, according to the Energy Information Administration. Clearly, action is needed.
It is important to note that no solution would dramatically lower fuel costs overnight. Recently, I was pleased to support an energy bill which takes the initial steps in higher standards for automobile fuel efficiency. While the new fuel efficiency standards will not be fully implemented until 2020 - a timeframe I believe is far too long - the relief for consumers will be long-term, not just a short-term fix.
The energy bill also includes provisions requiring 36 billion gallons of ethanol and other biofuels to be incorporated into gasoline, thus reducing the need for foreign oil. For the past few years, there has been a national debate on the benefits of ethanol and its affects to reduce the cost of gasoline at the pumps. At the same time, there has been a local effort to bring ethanol production to the Garden State and, in particular, to South Jersey. In 2007, Cumberland County approved plans for the state's first ethanol plant, which could produce at least 3 million gallons of corn-based fuel product per year, to be built in Bridgeton. Furthermore, a group of Rowan University students and professors continues to research ways to more-readily turn biodegradable resources into fuel. Both plans are worthy of further development.
While it is true that New Jersey is fortunate to have a lower average gasoline price at our stations - though still above levels seen this time last year - residents' wallets are not immune to the rising costs of home-heating oil. As the winter cold continues to move into South Jersey, our bills are likely to increase at a forecasted rate of 10 to 22 percent. Similar to the lack of attention paid to rising gasoline prices, little has been done to insulate American households from the pending sticker-shock of home-heating costs.
Recently, I joined with my colleagues in petitioning the President to release an additional $20 million in contingency funding under the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which assists low-income families, individuals with disabilities, and senior citizens with paying their energy bills during the winter months. In addition to direct assistance, LIHEAP allows low-income homeowners to weatherize their homes to save energy and lower their costs, which reduces heating bills by 31 percent and overall energy bills by $200-250 on average per year. Furthermore, I am urging the Administration to support and fund the full $5.1 billion authorized by the Congress for the 2008-2009 winter season.
As we start 2008, Americans need relief from the financial pinch they have been feeling. While local, state and the federal government continue to take steps to reduce wasteful energy use, there are actions each of us can take to reduce consumption and lower our energy bills. From carpooling and public transportation to energy-efficient appliances and florescent lighting in our homes, there are options available now. When Congress returns, I will continue to advocate for common-sense energy solutions and support those initiatives that have true savings for consumers. Otherwise, soaring energy bills will only continue to steal our hard-earned dollars.