The average price of gas soared last week to $3.38 a gallon, 68 cents higher than this time a year ago. With unrest continuing in the Middle East, it is likely energy costs will continue to rise. Our demand for foreign sources of energy is directly responsible for this reality. The time to act on comprehensive energy policy is now, before prices at the pump soar to $4 a gallon or more.
Rising energy costs cause substantial hardship for families, seniors, schools, and small businesses. It not only increases the price of gas, but also the costs of food, heat, commodities, and other goods and services. As our economy continues to recover, these higher costs will be another hurdle slowing economic growth, and job creation.
American energy policy is broken. For too long, it has focused on limiting energy production within our borders and making it more expensive. Even though the Administration officially lifted its ban on offshore drilling last year, there continues to be a de facto moratorium limiting shallow or deepwater drilling permits.
For example, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management has not issued a single deepwater drilling permit. Further, it has approved only 32 permits for new shallow water wells since the official freezes were lifted, which is far below the 10 permits per week it was averaging before the Macondo well spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Recently, I joined a number of my colleagues in sending a letter to President Obama underscoring the need to expedite offshore permits for energy exploration and highlighting Administration policy effects on our energy security, gas prices and the economy.
Rather than burdening domestic energy producers with irresponsible regulations and inaction, Congress and the Administration must work together to develop energy policy which uses all of the abundant resources our country possesses. Sources like coal, natural gas, hydropower, nuclear, wind, and solar fill America's diverse, plentiful energy portfolio. An all-of-the-above energy approach would allow us to increase our supply, reduce our dependence on Middle Eastern oil, decrease energy costs, and create jobs.
Proudly, Nebraska has been a leader in the advancement of diverse energy production. From making wind turbines in Columbus to refining ethanol across the state, we have demonstrated the variety of sources into which we can tap as we develop an energy policy for the 21st century.
Last month, I reintroduced the Small-Scale Hydropower Enhancement Act (H.R. 795) to help further address our energy needs. While most think of hydropower as a resource requiring a massive dam, advancements in smaller hydropower units offer tremendous opportunity. By focusing attention on small-scale projects, we would expand hydropower as a viable energy option, particularly for rural consumers.
This bill would exempt hydropower projects generating less than one and a half megawatts from the Federal Regulatory Commission's (FERC) permitting rules. FERC regulates the licensing and inspection of private, municipal, and state hydroelectric projects. Catch-all federal regulations many of which are unnecessary or outdated stifle development in the small-scale energy field by making projects financially prohibitive. My bill would help stimulate the economy of rural America and increase domestic energy production at no cost to taxpayers.
A strategic, all-of-the-above approach to energy policy, which utilizes American engineering, ingenuity and entrepreneurship, will strengthen our economy and create thousands of new jobs, right here at home. More importantly, by encouraging conservation, incentivizing innovation, and responsibly using existing American resources, cost burdens on Nebraskans will be lessened.
For more information about this issue, the latest developments from Congress, or to sign up for my e-mail newsletter, please visit my website at www.adriansmith.house.gov.