By John Kline
This weekend's fishing opener commemorates an unofficial holiday in which many of Minnesota's 1.1 million anglers travel to their favorite lake to participate in one of our state's great traditions. The fishing opener is a rite of passage from winter to spring, a long-awaited escape from the harsh winters of the upper Midwest. At this time last year, as families packed up their cars to head away for the weekend, they faced gasoline prices that had skyrocketed to $3.46 per gallon - with prices at the pump hovering near $4 by Memorial Day. A similar trend was taking place across the country, and in Washington, I joined my colleagues - from both sides of the aisle - to demand meaningful relief through a new energy policy. Unfortunately, one year later, we are still waiting.
While prices at the pump are comparatively reasonable so far this year, Minnesotans and all Americans should be bracing themselves for an even more crippling cost increase - this time in the form of national energy tax that threatens the budgets of families and small businesses. In an attempt to raise federal revenue and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the President has proposed a national energy tax known as "cap-and-trade," and less affectionately referred to as, "cap and tax." Currently being reviewed in Congress, this irresponsible proposal will drive up the price of everyday goods, strain the economy, reduce jobs, and impose a significant cost increase on every American who dares to turn on a light.
Although certain legislative details remain unclear, the plan would inflict every domestic energy producer with a tax for their carbon emissions - a cost that inevitably will be passed onto consumers. In addition to increasing the burden on American families and businesses, it also creates a host of new federal mandates on everything from outdoor light bulbs and table lamps to water dispensers and whirlpools.
Under this national energy tax, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) estimates Americans can expect an annual increase of $3,100 in their energy bill. The President's own budget director estimates the increase for every American family will be even higher, approximately $4,000 per year.
Even the architects of this national energy tax admit the costs would be devastating. Explaining his own plan, the President said "electricity rates would necessarily skyrocket." Democratic Congressman John Dingell, former Chairman of the House and Energy Commerce Committee, said the cap-and-trade plan is a "tax, and it's a great big one."
Understandably, this plan is being met by stiff resistance from Minnesotans, the manufacturing and agriculture sectors, consumers, and energy companies and cooperatives. Recently, a representative from a Minnesota agricultural cooperative relayed the harsh effect such a tax would have on his business and the Minnesota farmers who are its members. During a recent roundtable discussion I held with small business owners in the 2nd district, the owner of a south metro printing business showed me his $7,495 per month electricity bill and said that any further increase in his energy costs will force him to lay off employees. It was distressing to hear the repeated accounts of how these men and women are being forced to choose between dismissing long-time employees and paying energy bills.
Consumers are already feeling the pain of high energy costs, making it inconceivable to suggest adding another $3,000-$4,000 to their bills each year. To combat the rapidly rising cost of living last year, one Chaska couple took on part-time newspaper delivery jobs. But as gas prices soared, they began to realize their profits were being lost at the pumps. To make matters worse, she said, "the high gas prices have raised the cost of a lot of things and [unlike gas] those prices have not come back down."
Republicans and Democrats agree it is important to find clean efficient energy sources that will break our dependence on foreign oil. But our nation needs a diversified, "all of the above" energy policy that increases domestic energy production, embraces renewable and alternative fuels, and supports conservation efforts to reduce energy consumption. Congress must work together to increase American energy production, encourage greater efficiency and conservation, and promote the use of alternative fuels - in ways that do not raise costs for you and your family.