Contact: Agustina Guerrero (813)871-2817
Declaring Independence From Big Oil
By Kathy Castor
Tampa, Jul 4 -
Hardworking Tampa Bay area families are being squeezed by the rising costs of health care, housing, property insurance and, of course, gas prices. Many reformers have been standing up to the White House and urging them for years to change direction and focus on long-term solutions to our energy challenges. Big Oil and their allies in Washington have had a stranglehold over our country's energy policy, and unfortunately families and businesses across America are paying the price. Bipartisan reformers are not giving up, however.
An historic increase in required gas mileage of 35 mpg for our cars was signed into law a few months ago - the first such increase in 32 years. Better gas mileage for our cars will save families from $700 to $1,000 per year at the pump and slash consumption by 4 million gallons per day. Technological innovation for our automobiles is vital. For example, cars in Japan travel almost twice as far on a gallon of gas. What has been missing is the political leadership to spur innovation. This is changing.
U.S. House lawmakers passed two energy bills last week. First, we put oil speculators on notice by passing the Energy Markets Emergency Act, with the support of 170 Republicans (out of 189 voting), which authorizes federal regulators to take "emergency steps" to tighten oversight of oil futures trading. Experts testified last week before Congress that the explosion of speculation in the oil futures market could be driving up prices from $20 to $60 per barrel. Hardworking families should not be punished at the pump for the actions of oil speculators, and reformers are calling on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to act. The CFTC should investigate all energy contracts and prevent oil speculators from profiting simply by betting against the American consumers at the pump.
Second, the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support, will lower fares for mass transit and expand routes and frequencies for commuters. Public transit is an attractive alternative during a time of high gas prices. New commuters are choosing to ride the bus or train to work rather than ride alone in their cars. According to two recent studies, America saves up to 1.5 to 4 billion gallons of gasoline annually due to public transit - that is about 11 million gallons of gasoline per day.
Ridership is up all across America - 2007 was the highest level in 50 years. Light rail riders are way up in Denver, Seattle, Dallas-Fort Worth, San Francisco, Charlotte and many other communities. South Florida posted a 20 percent increase over last year in ridership in March and April. The regional effort to bring light rail to Tampa Bay is making headway and none too soon for commuters. Transit agencies also are using more alternative fuels and clean technologies that improve the air and aid America's energy independence.
Inexplicably, the White House opposes the Saving Energy Through Public Transportation Act. What a shame on the White House because expanding public transportation is one of the most promising ways to reduce energy consumption and reliance on foreign oil. Remember just seven years ago, the administration's energy task force met secretly behind closed doors and it consisted of a former oil company executive and other oil company executives, including Ken Lay of Enron. Their recommendations today are the same as they were seven years ago: more drilling and more of the same.
Americans understand that continuing the addiction to oil, drilling just offshore and risking Florida's tourism and fishing economies are not viable long-term solutions to gas prices. The Energy Information Administration confirmed again last week that opening more offshore areas would not have a significant impact on gas prices. After all, 68 million acres of federal lands and waters are already leased and available, but not being tapped.
This Independence Day, renew your commitment to energy independence through better gas mileage for our cars, innovation, an end to profiteering, conservation and transit.
Kathy Castor represents Florida's 11th Congressional District, which covers parts of Hillsborough, Pinellas and Manatee counties.