Congressman Ralph Hall (R-TX) Ranking Member, House Committee on Science and Technology
Oil and gas prices are at an all-time high, with national averages topping $3.25/gallon. A year ago, we feared a time when crude oil could reach $100/barrel - and now oil has hit $110/barrel for the first time in history. Unfortunately, energy analysts are saying that prices at the pump are not likely to decrease anytime soon and could rise as high as $3.75/gallon this year.
Congress could provide some relief at the pump by enacting responsible energy policies that encourage domestic production, promote the use of clean coal and energy efficient technologies, and decrease regulatory barriers to the building of new, safe nuclear power plants and oil refineries.
Increasing America's domestic production and refinery capacity could significantly help reduce the price volatility of gasoline. While obviously the high price of crude oil is the biggest determinant of the price of a gallon of gasoline, there are other factors that play a part. For instance, the cost of turning oil into gasoline has also risen in recent years, due in part to costly federal regulations on refinery operations and expansions.
For years I have supported increasing domestic supply and refining capacity. No new refineries have been built in the U.S. since the 1970s, and while existing refineries have expanded, they haven't been able to keep pace with increasing gasoline demand. In fact, foreign refineries are now helping to fill the domestic gap, accounting for around 10 percent of America's gasoline production.
Nuclear energy has also seen a surge in recent years as people realize that it is a clean and safe source of energy. But as with building a new refinery, the permitting and construction process is extremely expensive, and there are still significant risks to venture capitalists who would otherwise invest.
Congress needs to reduce uncertainty in the regulatory process for permitting and construction of new nuclear plants and oil refineries by streamlining the process and requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to issue its rulings within a realistic time frame. Another way to help expedite the building of new refineries and nuclear plants is to open closed military bases as potential building sites. Military bases offer great advantages in that they are self-contained, strategically located, and would otherwise be vacant infrastructure. This idea, initially proposed by the President, is the type of forward looking policy that can actually help build new facilities and affect gasoline prices in the short term.
Beyond expanded domestic capacity, Congress can also promote energy efficiency and research and development (R&D) into alternative fuel sources. Energy legislation that I introduced earlier in the 110th Congress does this by promoting advancements in carbon capture technology, vehicle and building efficiency, and next-generation biofuel technologies. Some provisions from my bill were included in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which the President signed into law in December. One such provision enhances the federal government's role in R&D of advanced energy storage systems for stationary and vehicular applications, allowing for the increased use of renewable sources such as wind and solar for reliable electricity generation.
Also included in the Act was the first increase in vehicle efficiency standards in 30 years, requiring automakers to boost fleet-wide gas mileage to 35 mpg by the year 2020. I think the boost should have been set for the year 2010 or 2012. More energy efficient vehicles, along with a growing market for hybrids and flex-fuel vehicles, will help reduce America's dependence on foreign oil and bring down energy costs.
Finally, we need to make smart use of our domestic natural resources. According to a February 2006 report by the Department of the Interior, there are estimated reserves of 8.5 billion barrels of oil and 29.3 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas in the outer continental shelf (OCS). Additionally, another 86 billion barrels of oil and 420 tcf of natural gas are classified as undiscovered resources. While current regulations prohibit domestic oil producers from recovering oil and gas from most of these regions, I am convinced that we have the technology to drill in an environmentally sound way, and we should allow our domestic producers the opportunity to prove it.
This year marks the culmination of a legislative project I spearheaded in the House, creating an R&D program to recover oil and natural gas from ultra-deepwater and other onshore terrains. The Ultra-deepwater and Unconventional Onshore Hydrocarbon Resources Act was signed into law as part of the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and will be carried out through the Research Partnership to Secure Energy for America (RPSEA). RPSEA recently awarded the first nineteen projects, bringing together the resources of America's leading universities, research institutions and technology innovators to find ways to recover hard-to-get domestic energy resources.
Americans need relief at the pump now more than ever. Congress needs to jumpstart efforts to help bring down energy costs in the short-term, while building on comprehensive energy policies that recognize the importance of all energy sources for the long-term. Providing Americans with affordable energy should not be a partisan issue. I am committed to promoting policies that will help all Americans have access to clean, affordable, and reliable sources of energy for decades to come.