The Rising Costs of Energy and the Way to Halt Them
Whether you are a rancher, a long-haul trucker, a school teacher, or a retiree, it's likely that no issue currently debated in Washington affects you more directly than the high energy costs we face. Every time a disabled veteran has to drive across the state to the VA hospital in Sheridan or a small businessman in Casper hops a flight to Denver, they acutely feel the energy crunch we all experience. The simple fact is that energy must be listed today along with food, water, clothing and shelter, as the basic human needs we depend on for survival. Unfortunately, we will never free ourselves from our current energy situation until we take real steps to ramp up domestic production, increase pipeline capacity in the west, cut through the red tape and lawsuits that delay production, and build additional refineries across our nation. Instead of making headway on these comprehensive policy changes, the Democrat leadership in Congress continues to churn out useless rhetoric and superficial, gimmicky fixes. We need to stop talking and start doing. I am personally introducing several pieces of legislation to address these issues head-on.
First, I have recently introduced H.R. 6329, a bill that will significantly increase America's refining capacity. No new refinery has been built in the U.S. since before my second son was born. He is now a practicing physician. Many factors contribute to why a refinery has not been built in America since 1976, but first among the problems is government red tape. Along with the bureaucratic hurdles, the lack of approved sites has simply made it too expensive for a company to build a new refinery. My bill overcomes this problem by directing the Secretary of Energy to designate, within 90 days of the bill being signed into law, no fewer than five "brownfield" sites appropriate for the construction of new refineries. Brownfields are properties where perceived or real minimal concentrations of hazardous waste or pollution deter reuse of the land. Many have been successfully cleaned-up for other beneficial local purposes, but thousands still sit idle across our nation.
Constructing new refineries on brownfields will certainly take some time, which makes it all the more imperative to act swiftly on my bill. In the meantime, to increase the supply of fuel on the market even more quickly, my legislation also helps existing refineries expand their capacity. It does this by offering a tax deduction to any existing refinery that increases either its overall capacity by at least five percent or the amount of refined fuels to market by at least 25 percent. By increasing our domestic refined fuel supply, we decrease what you pay for that fuel.
Increasing our refining capacity is irrelevant, however, if we don't have the raw resources available to refine. That means ramping up exploration and production in America, and keeping our public lands open to responsible energy development. Sadly, we are moving in the exact opposite direction. In the Powder River Basin, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is currently holding up more than 1500 applications for permits to drill (APDs) for natural gas while they work on new regulations to increase sage grouse protections - a bird for which we still have an annual hunting season. The BLM predicts it could take up to three years to develop these new regulations. Where will natural gas prices be then?
In northwest Wyoming, some are pressuring the United States Forest Service (USFS) to withdraw tens of thousands of acres of lands within the Wyoming Range that were previously deemed appropriate for leasing. New wilderness areas and wildlife "migration corridors" are also being proposed in the state. While I think most Wyomingites would agree that there are certainly portions of Wyoming that should not be open to energy development, current efforts by environmentalists to lock up the vast majority of public lands in our state reach far beyond any reasonable protections granted by current law.
Probably the most effective tool available to extremist groups who seek to hinder or halt energy development in the west is an unabashed abuse of our current environmental review and appeal process. Under the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA), a detailed analysis of environmental impacts must be prepared for all major federal actions on public lands. These federal actions range from the issuance of leases for energy development and pipeline construction to grazing and recreation permits. While this process is grounded in admirable intentions, that same process is often hijacked by well-funded, national environmental groups whose sole purpose is to slow development of public lands through litigation. In 2004, a survey of relevant federal agencies collected data to determine the degree to which the current NEPA process slowed decision making and delayed such actions as drilling permits and pipeline infrastructure projects. According to the results of that survey, factors "outside the NEPA process" - including litigation or the threat of a lawsuit - were identified as the cause of delay between 68 percent and 84 percent of the time. This inefficiency must be corrected.
For that reason, I have spent the past several months crafting legislation that would ensure the NEPA process works as intended, without removing a single environmental protection the law requires. Through reasonable reforms, my bill, which I hope to introduce in the coming weeks, will maintain a sound balance among the multiple and varied uses for which our public lands are intended.
Wyoming is not the only area of our nation where we can ease the energy crunch. Back in 1995, the Republican led Congress sent President Clinton a bill to open up a portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) in Alaska to limited energy exploration, and he vetoed it. The simple fact is, had President Clinton approved ANWR development back then, we would not be filling our tanks with $4 a gallon gasoline today. Due to modern drilling technologies, the "footprint," or area that would be impacted in ANWR, is only 2,000 of the massive 19.5 million acres ANWR encompasses. To put this ratio in perspective, that equates to less of an area than the size of a postage stamp on the football field at the University of Wyoming. Yet, experts estimate roughly 10.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil could be produced in ANWR, representing a possible 50 percent increase in total U.S. proven reserves.
In 1981, under former Democrat control, Congress passed the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) moratorium, which bans exploration of offshore natural gas and oil deposits except on portions of the Alaskan coast and the western Gulf of Mexico. Today, roughly 85 percent of these offshore energy resources remain under the lock and key of the federal government. Compounding the problem is that Cuba has already leased exploration areas to China, just a mere 60 miles off the coast of Southern Florida. As Congressional Democrats continue to sit on their hands and turn back proposals to produce our own resources offshore, China is working to drain formations that should rightfully belong to the U.S. The American public has given its opinion on the issue - almost 70 percent of Americans support drilling off-shore.
The bottom line is that gas prices are already far too high and they are only rising. We as a nation must decide what we want to do. If we want lower prices at the pump, we must act. If we want stable home heating and electric costs, we must act. If we want to reduce our dependency on foreign, terrorist governments from whom we import far too much of our oil, we must act. We have to make structural changes to America's energy policy - and we must do so now. The legislation I have proposed will go a long way toward that goal, but first they must be acted upon by the Democrat majority in the U.S. Congress. Your pocketbooks as well as our way of life depend on it.