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Pumping Big Oil for Answers


Location: Washington, DC

On a recent weekend in May, a group of Iowans met in Central Iowa to celebrate a family member's graduation from high school. It didn't take long for the friends, relatives and neighbors gathered to compare notes on gas prices. When one person was asked what gas was bringing in his neck of the woods, he half-jokingly replied: "Well, three hours ago it was $3.25, but who knows how high it will be by the time I get back."

Most drivers grimace when their vehicle's gas gauge reaches empty, especially these days when consumers have to dig deeper to fill ‘er up. Although gas prices traditionally climb leading up to the Memorial Day holiday, this year's summer driving season began with record-breaking gas prices in inflation-adjusted dollars.

And when fuel prices climb, consumers get hit all across the supply chain as it costs more to produce, transport and stock food and consumer products on the store shelves. Farmers and small business owners get squeezed when energy prices shrink their bottom lines.

The short-term pinch certainly squeezes household budgets. But the longer-term consequences of U.S. energy dependence on foreign fossil fuels carry even more significant risks to the environment, economy and national security.

That's why I have long championed public policy that boosts domestic energy production, including traditional and renewable sources, to diversify sources of electricity and fuels key to the nation's prosperity.

As the ranking Republican on the tax-writing Senate Finance Committee, I passionately support the development of homegrown energy and alternative fuels. Using the federal tax code as a vehicle to reduce America's energy dependence on fossil fuels, I secured in the 2005 energy bill an extension of the small producer ethanol tax credit; a tax credit for biodiesel; and, a tax break to offset the costs for installing clean fuel vehicle refueling stations, such as E85 and B20.

The domestic auto industry is on board to double the production of E-85 vehicles by 2010. In the past decade, six million flex-fuel vehicles manufactured by domestic automakers have hit U.S. roadways. Domestic ethanol production is sailing towards production levels of 11 billion gallons annually by 2009.

So, we've got willing consumers, engaged automakers and farmers and ethanol makers ramping up production to meet demand. But it won't do any good if consumers can't buy E-85 at the pump.

Iowa has roughly 65 stations selling E-85. Only one of those is a major branded station.

This situation calls into question Big Oil's expressed commitment to expand the availability and use of alternative fuels. As a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I questioned the top guns at four Big Oil companies testifying before Congress in March 2006, including Exxon, British Petroleum, Chevron and Conoco Phillips. I asked each CEO if he would commit to allow independent owners of branded stations to sell E-85 and B-20.

Each executive stated the company's willingness to allow alternative fuel sales. However, reality paints a different version of the truth.

Iowans across the state pull up every day to a pump selling fuel under a canopy branded by one of these companies. And yet, contractual roadblocks appear to restrict the purchase and sale of E-85 by the station owners, including discriminatory tactics such as banning E-85 advertisements and prohibiting E-85 pumps to be installed underneath the canopy.

That's why I'm pumping Big Oil for answers. In letters I sent recently to the four Big Oil companies whose CEO's testified last year before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I asked for clarification regarding their apparent contradictory statements. Did they mislead Congress and the American public?

When it comes to high gas prices, consumers are tired of the same-old excuses, from refinery outages, to low fuel stocks and glitches in the distribution system. As Iowa's senior U.S. Senator, I'm tired of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries tightening the noose around our necks whenever it chooses to curb production.

And as far as my crusade to promote green energy and alternative fuels, I won't stand for the run-around from Big Oil profiteers.

Renewable energy, alternative fuels, more efficient homes and appliances and conservation are pivotal pieces of America's long-term energy security. I'd like to see the oil industry go "beyond petroleum" whole hog and help pump up a sustainable, alternative fuel supply. From my leadership position in the U.S. Senate, I'll keep riding herd in Washington to advance clean, homegrown renewable energy.

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