May 12, 2011

W.Va. Sens. call for action on gas prices | The Elkins Inter-Mountain

High fuel prices across the nation have prompted action from the state's two U.S. senators. U.S. Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller, both D-W.Va., Wednesday called for action to combat the cost of fuel and provide relief for Americans struggling to pay around $4 per gallon.

On the U.S. Senate floor, Manchin asked that his colleagues to work toward making the country energy independent during this generation.

Recalling the gasoline rations of the 1970s, Manchin said the event was "something that you'd never believe could happen in America." He explained that the rations occurred because at the time, the nation was approximately 28 percent dependent on foreign oil. Now, the U.S. relies on other countries that "don't like us and want to do us harm" for more than 50 percent of its oil production.

"We've seen this bad movie time and again, and yet somehow it seems that Washington keeps thinking that there will be a different ending," Manchin said. "The right ending will only come when our nation makes it a high priority to achieve energy independence within this generation."

Manchin's five factors to help ease prices at the pump are "Cracking down" on Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), combating oil speculators, reforming oil company subsidies, promoting alternative fuels and a national energy plan.

"I believe we can do this, and I know we can, because just this week in beautiful Mingo County, West Virginia, my state took a major step to confront our gas prices head-on," Manchin told the Senate. "On Monday, West Virginians said: 'Enough is enough.'"

Manchin explained that the coal-to-gasoline plant, which will be constructed over a four-year period, is "at the forefront of any technology in the world." It's expected that the plant will convert 7,500 tons of West Virginia coal into 756,000 gallons of premium gasoline each day. Approximately 300 direct, full-time jobs will be created by the plant when it's operational.

"In West Virginia and Mingo County, the government is acting as a partner, not an obstacle, and that is the role our federal government should take going forward," Manchin said. "This is exactly the kind of project that the federal government should work with us to make sure it succeeds - as our ally, not an adversary.

To constrain OPEC, Manchin has signed on to the bipartisan legislation No Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels (NOPEC) Act. The bill calls for the Department of Justice to bring action against foreign countries, such as the members of OPEC, for "collusive practices in setting the price or limiting the production of oil."

Manchin suggests that to prevent oil speculating, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission should take "aggressive steps" in the short term to regulate and pursue those who are increasing the cost of a gallon of gas.

Rockefeller, and other U.S. Senate members, wrote the CFTC in March to urge the implementation of new policies that will better regulate oil speculation.

"Oil speculation had gotten completely out of control," Rockefeller said in a prepared statement released Wednesday. "The fact that a few people on Wall Street trying to make an easy profit can impact the price that regular people throughout the country pay for gas is unacceptable, particularly with gas prices headed steadily up. Too many people are struggling just to afford to drive to work or the grocery store. The CFTC must take action to better regulate speculators, and its hasn't been doing its job. This watchdog must crack down right away for the sake of every family who is quickly losing hard earned money because of the skyrocketing cost of gas."

Oil company subsidies do not make sense to Manchin. He says that there is no need for subsidies when oil company profits and price for a barrel of oil are at record highs.

By promoting alternative fuels, such as coal, biomass, algae and waste, Manchin thinks the nation could reduce its dependency on foreign oil. Manchin is co-sponsoring the American Alternative Fuels Act bill, which would decrease barriers to alternative energy fuels.

Manchin, however, thinks the creation of a National Energy Plan is the most important point to end dependence on foreign oil.

In addition to writing the CFTC, Rockefeller has sent letters to President Barack Obama asking him to be prepared to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve if further supply disruptions occur; the Federal Trade Commission stating that the agency needs to fully use its authority to ensure individuals are paying a fair price for fuel; and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, asking that Republicans abandon efforts in their spending bill that would reduce the CFTC's budget by one-third. Rockefeller has also cosponsored Use it or Lose it Act, which encourages oil companies to use the leases they already have on federal land and waters.

"I truly believe if we work together and focus on a common sense approach ... we can develop a strong, bipartisan energy plan that will not only break the power of foreign oil countries and speculators, but will chart a new and promising energy future for this great nation," Manchin said.
By:  Carra Higgins