Emerson says lowering gas prices will be No. 1 priority for Congress
By Rudi Keller
Increasing oil supplies to lower prices is the top priority for Congress when it returns to work Sept. 8, U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson said Wednesday.
Emerson, speaking to about 30 members the Cape Girardeau Lions Club, said the issue is even more crucial for residents of small cities and rural areas because of the distances many people must travel to work each day. In the 8th Congressional District, which Emerson has represented since 1996, she noted the median income is about $30,000 annually and a 25- to 40-minute commute to work, especially in more rural counties, is common.
"In rural America, gas may be a little cheaper, but we are impacted more, not only by how far we drive to work, but to school and shopping as well," she said. "We have tried on many, many occasions in the last two years to start the U.S. on the path to energy indepdence."
Emerson hopes that by the time Congress adjourns for the year Sept. 26, a bipartisan measure opening up at least part of the outer continental shelf for drilling will pass. There are enough Democrats ready to vote for the measure that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who Emerson called the biggest obstacle to the bill, will be forced to allow a vote.
The bipartisan compromise Emerson said she favors would create incentives for exploitation of offshore oil fields, oil shale deposits in the Rocky Mountain states, expanded options for nuclear power and support for alternative energy sources. And while she personally supports drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the reality of Washington politics means that location will likely remain off-limits to exploration, she said.
Emerson warned that Pelosi could try to put a provision into the legislation giving power of final approval to the states where the drilling would take place. That provision could effectively make the bill useless, she said.
Emerson credited the pressure minority Republicans have put on the Democratic majority for opening up the chance to pass the bill. "We started screaming and yelling about it because of outrageous and rising energy prices," she said.
In her talk, Emerson also reported that she recently attended a conference on Islam where "I learned a lot about the preconceived notions I had and my colleagues have."
For example, Emerson said, U.S. officials referring to the "War on Terror" create tension with Islamic countries, while the phrase "International Fight Against Terrorism," has a much less antagonistic effect.
"One thing I learned is that words matter," she said.
Emerson also touched on politics, noting that in 2006 she predicted in a speech to the Lions Club that Democrats would take over Congress. "I had a lot of calls beating up on me for being negative, but I was just being honest."
Taking back the House is out of reach for Republicans this year, said Emerson, who is seeking her seventh term in the Nov. 4 election. The presidential match-up is a little cloudier, she said. "No prediction," she said.
On Tuesday, Emerson was presented with the Legislative Achievement Award from AARP at her district office in the new Rush H. Limbaugh Sr. U.S. Courthouse. The presentation was at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and will recognize Emerson's work on drug reimportation from Canada, direct negotiation of drug prices for Medicare Part D and hunger issues.