Newsletter: Mel's comments on energy, an Action Alert about unclaimed stimulus checks and a 12th District News Update
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
Mel's Comments: Energy
Energy prices are, with justification, a source of growing concern for 12th District constituents and for all Americans. The price of gasoline has more than doubled since 2000, directly affecting everyone's cost of living. Under these circumstances, it's important for you to know what actions I have supported and not supported in Congress to address the problem and why.
The House has taken the following actions, each of which I have supported:
Click on this link to view a Memorandum summarizing provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act which was signed into law last year.
Congress passed and the President signed into law the Strategic Petroleum Reserve Fill Suspension and Consumer Protection Act, requiring the Secretary of the Interior to suspend petroleum acquisition, about 90,000 barrels per day, for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. While this will help reduce demand, we have also been aggressively encouraging the President to release some of the oil currently being held in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to add supply. The last time this was done in 2000, gas prices dropped approximately 20%. While we would not anticipate such a dramatic result this time, any reduction would help.
On April 20 the House passed H.R. 6074, the Gas Price Relief for Consumers Act, by a vote of 324 to 84. This bill would grant the U.S. Justice Department the authority to investigate and prosecute in U.S. Courts anticompetitive conduct committed by international cartels that restrict supply to drive up prices. The Senate has not yet taken action on this bill.
On May 21 the House passed H.R. 6049, the Renewable Energy and Job Creation Act, by a vote of 263 to 160. This bill would provide tax incentives for alternative energy production and repeal tax windfalls for large oil companies. Economists estimate that the increased use of alternatives, such as ethanol and biodiesel, is already keeping gas prices about 15% lower than they would otherwise be and will have substantially greater impacts in the future. However, the President opposed this bill and on June 17 the Senate failed to get the 60 votes required to consider the legislation.
On June 26 the House passed H.R. 6377, the Energy Markets Emergency Act, by a vote of 402 to 19. This bill would direct the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to curb excessive speculation in energy futures trading markets and to eliminate price distortions, unwarranted changes in prices and other unlawful activities that prevent the market from accurately reflecting the forces of supply and demand. The Senate has not taken action on this bill.
On June 26 the House passed H.R. 6052, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, by a vote of 322 to 98. This bill would authorize grants to cities and other localities to help expand and reduce the price of public transportation. The Senate has not taken action on this bill.
H.R. 6251, the Responsible Federal Oil and Gas Lease Act, a bill that would require oil companies to use the 68 million acres of federal land already available for drilling or risk losing their leases on the land, received 223 votes in the House on June 26, 67 votes less than the 2/3 required to pass the bill on the Suspension Calendar. We expect this bill to be considered again in the near future on the regular House calendar where only a majority vote will be required for passage.
The President and some of my colleagues in Congress have suggested that additional drilling for oil within the United States or off our coast will solve the energy problem and that I oppose it solely because of environmental concerns. While I share the substantial concerns that many have expressed about the environmental impacts that can result from drilling, there are also other good reasons for concern about more domestic drilling:
As indicated above, oil and natural gas companies already hold leases on 68 million acres of federal land on which they have not commenced drilling;
The Department of Energy has concluded that opening the arctic for drilling would not reduce gas prices until 15 to 20 years from now and then only by 1 cent per gallon; and
Domestic oil drilling has increased by over 65% since 2000, yet gas prices have continued to increase.
In the long run, the energy problem can only be solved if we pursue aggressively both conservation and development of alternative fuel sources. I will certainly continue to support efforts in both of these areas.
ACTION ALERT: Not Too Late To Get Stimulus Checks
The last of the Economic Stimulus Act checks have been mailed to individuals and couples who filed tax returns on or before April 15. Those who requested an extension must file their tax return before October 15 to get their stimulus check.
But the IRS estimates that there are still more than 35,000 seniors, veterans, disabled veterans and others in the six counties the 12th District covers who qualify for stimulus checks (mostly people who were not required to file a tax return for the year 2006). They have not filed the 2007 tax return that would trigger the issuance of the stimulus check they are eligible to receive. It's not too late!!! Individuals who had "qualifying income" of at least $3,000 in 2007 are eligible for at least $300. "Qualifying income" includes Social Security benefits and benefits paid to disabled veterans. But they must file a 2007 tax return to get the stimulus check.
Please share this information with friends and family members who may be eligible for a stimulus payment but have not yet filed a 2007 tax return. If you have any additional questions, please don't hesitate to contact my office.
We have entered the heavy travel season. Passports can be obtained by completing an application at the passport office in your local Post Office. Eight weeks should be allowed for processing. In an emergency, my office will try to expedite obtaining a passport. Please contact any of my district offices if you have an emergency.
Student Loan Costs Reduced
The College Cost Reduction and Access Act of 2007, signed into law on September 27, 2007, provides the single largest increase in college aid since the GI bill, at no new cost to taxpayers. On July 1, 2008, federal interest rates on subsidized federal Stafford Loans for undergraduates will drop to 6% from the previous rate of 6.8%, providing significant savings for borrowers. According to the U.S. Public Interest Research Group the average North Carolina four-year college student starting school this fall will save about $2,480 over the life of his or her loan. Rates on subsidized federal Stafford loans will continue to drop over the next few years to:
5.6% for loans disbursed between July 1, 2009 and June 30, 2010;
4.5% for loans disbursed between July 1, 2010 and June 30, 2011; and
3.4% for loans disbursed on or after July 1, 2011.
Help with Federal Agencies
My office works hard to ensure that everyone in the 12th District is treated fairly when dealing with federal agencies. For more information on what my office can and can not do, click here. The following are some changes at federal agencies that may affect you:
The Social Security Administration is going electronic. You can now apply for retirement or disability benefits, view your Social Security statements, calculate your benefits and make minor changes or replace your Social Security card on their secure website. This should help us better serve constituents by decreasing the processing time on claims.
The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) recently announced that applications are now being accepted on-line from veterans, survivors and other claimants filing initial applications for disability compensation, pension, education and vocational rehabilitation and employment benefits without submission of a signed paper copy of the application. The on-line application also provides a link to apply for VA health care and other benefits. VONAPP (www.va.gov/onlineapps.htm), a Web-based system, will reduce the number of incomplete applications received by the VA and decrease the need for additional VA claims processors.
Congratulations to Service Academy Attendees
Each year I nominate qualified high school seniors from the 12th Congressional District for appointment to the U.S. Military, Naval, Air Force and Merchant Marine Academies. These Academies provide outstanding opportunities for qualified men and women to receive one of the most respected college educational experiences in the nation. Admission is based on SAT/ACT scores, class rank, physical aptitude scores, extracurricular activities, athletic ability and medical condition. Residents of the 12th District between the ages of 17 and 23 may apply to be nominated by contacting any of my offices.
I am pleased that all five of the students we nominated for the class entering in July 2008 were accepted and have enrolled. They are:
Preston Graham, a graduate of Ragsdale High School in Greensboro, has entered the United States Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point, New York;
Michael Jones of High Point, a graduate of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics High School, has entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis;
Harvey Manley, a graduate of Ronald Reagan High School in Winston-Salem, has entered the United States Naval Academy at Annapolis;
Hugh Palmer, a graduate from Charlotte Country Day School in Charlotte, has entered the United States Military Academy at West Point; and
Joel Short of Winston-Salem, a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has entered the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
Congratulations to each of them. We wish them much success.
Congratulations to Congressional Art Competition Winner
Each year the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina participates in the Congressional Art Competition, which is designed to encourage and recognize the rich artistic talents of our nation's young people. The competition is open to all high school students who reside or attend schools in the 12th Congressional District. This year's competition was our largest ever and attracted outstanding artistic works from throughout the district. The winning entry will be displayed for one year, along with winning entries from other Congressional districts throughout the nation, in the United States Capitol in Washington.
This year's 12th District winner is Alex McKenzie, a graduate of South Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte. He will be attending the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. We congratulate him on this honor and wish him much success.
Grants Conference and Information
We host a 12th Congressional District Grants Conference each year at a college or university in the district to provide information on programs offered by federal agencies, the application process and tools for locating and researching federal funding opportunities. Representatives from many federal agencies attend to provide face-to-face information and advice. This year's conference was held at High Point University on June 16, 2008 and was attended by approximately 150 participants. My office also provides ongoing assistance to residents of the 12th Congressional District seeking grants from the federal government. For more information, contact Tamara Stinson in my Charlotte office.