Representatives rejecting Clinton Challenge

Joining Mark Udall, some 28 members of the House of Representatives responded to Hillary Clinton’s challenge on a gas tax holiday … and rejected her Energy Dumb concept for a gas tax holiday.

While it is important that these 28 have spoken up, some of their words and the implications of their statement are concerning.

The Bush administration’s oil and gas policies have been disastrous for our economy, the environment and hard working Americans. Since January 2001, oil prices have skyrocketed to $120 per barrel – up more than 250%. The increased price at the pump, coupled with the White House’s failure to end America’s addiction to oil, has hurt American families and weakened our economy. Meanwhile, the major oil and gas companies are reporting record profits and America’s dependence on foreign oil has never been higher.

The situation is bad when it comes to energy, the environment, and Americans’ pocketbooks. Thank you George.

And, it will only get worse if we don’t do something to “end America’s addiction to oil”.

In response to this serious and long-term policy challenge, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Hillary Clinton (D-NY) have proposed suspending the $0.18/gallon federal gas tax for the summer. We are strongly opposed to this short-term and counterproductive response, for several reasons.

They are “opposed” and they are speaking up about it.

First, their proposal will bankrupt the federal Highway Trust Fund, leading to deep cuts to transit investments and to critical safety and congestion-relief funding. While our constituents would like to pay less at the pump, they don’t want to see the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs, worsened rush hour traffic, and increasingly dangerous road conditions.

Who cares about the Highway Trust Fund? Who cares about money for roads? Certainly not drivers.

There is something that is highly frustrating in all this discussion. Yes, a gas tax holiday would take money out of the Highway Trust Fund, but why isn’t anyway talking about how the gas tax represents only the slightest portion of the costs of gasoline on society which might be in the range of $15 per gallon. These social costs include health impacts of fossil fuel pollution, security for movement of oil, global warming, and otherwise. That 18.4 cents doesn’t even begin to cover the true societal costs of a gallon of gasoline.

Secondly, the fiscal damage to the Highway Trust Fund would not actually lead to a savings for families. Oil companies have no history of passing their own savings on to the consumer and we don’t believe they would do so now. The gas tax has remained stable for fifteen years, yet gas prices have steadily increased: clearly, the $0.18/gallon gas tax has little to do with the unusually high price at the pump. Waiving the federal gas tax will merely add to the already enormous profits of the oil industry while undermining our ability to invest in safer roads, cleaner fuels, and increased public transportation options.

A ‘gas tax holiday’ wouldn’t even lead to real savings for most households, as that money is likely to mean some additional profits for the poor, beleaguered oil companies.

Now, what is this “unusually high price” nonsense? Peak oil anyone? Oil prices are not likely to go lower, in aggregate, in the coming years. It is time to plan on and talk to extended price increases.

Third, Congress has begun to chart a new direction in energy policy — reducing demand for oil, improving the efficiency of cars and trucks, increasing our use of alternative fuels and renewable energy sources, and investing in a cleaner transportation infrastructure. These are the steps that we must take to reduce demand for oil, bring down the real cost of gasoline, and benefit consumers and the long-term health of our economy.

What is the “real cost of gasoline”, again? Is it an inflation-adjusted price at the pump or is it a price that considers the weakening of the economy through exporting dollars for fuel, the weakening of our health through pollution, the weakening of our long-term prospects due to global warming? What is “cost”?

This statement does an important thing: it clearly shows that members of Congress are willing to stand up, to speak forcefully in rejection of pandering politics. This is leadership. This is valuable. This deserves praise.

Thus, a thank you to these 28 Representatives:

George Miller (CA), Xavier Becerra (CA), Lois Capps (CA), Anna Eshoo (CA), Barbara Lee (CA), Zoe Lofgren (CA), Fortney Pete Stark (CA), Rosa DeLauro (CT), John Larson (CT), Hank Johnson (GA), Neil Abercrombie (HI), David Loebsack (IA), Jan Schakowsky (IL), Michael Capuano (MA), Wm. Lacy Clay (MO), Paul Hodes (NH), Carol Shea-Porter (NH), Melvin Watt (NC), Earl Blumenauer (OR), Peter DeFazio (OR), David WU (OR), Steve Cohen (TN), Eddie Bernice Johnson (TX), Lloyd Doggett (TX), Robert Scott (VA), Ron Kind (WI), Gwen Moore (WI), and Nick Rahall (WV).

On the other hand, is it appropriate to be suggesting to the American public that tomorrow’s gasoline prices are somehow, magically, going to be lower than today’s? Putting aside any concepts for a long-term, gradual increase in fossil prices (via carbon fee, a cap/auction/trade, or even a gasoline societal costs charge), rising world demand is hitting Peak Oil. Without some technological breakthrough, a magical change in reserves, or some other waving of the wand event, Peak Oil is upon us (and already past in the US). Oil prices are going higher. That means gasoline prices are going higher. It is time for leaders to speak to this. And, speak forcefully. Let us not delude ourselves that oil (and gasoline) will be magically cheaper tomorrow. The assureness of future costs being higher will foster ever greater investment (by individuals, businesses, governments) in means to reduce gasoline use. That is a win-win-win strategy in the face of exorably rising prices, not fostering a fantasy that gasoline will return to the 37.9 cents per gallon of yesteryear (or the 99.9 cents of the Clinton Administration).

It is time to speak truthfully.

Thus, a thank you to these 28 for speaking out.

But, a call on them to speak truth, more forcefully, about the challenges we face as individuals, communities, a nation in the face of Peak Oil and with Global Warming.

It will be difficult to navigate a safe course through the Perfect Storm of Peak Oil and Global Warming. Part of setting that course is honest discussion from courageous leaders.

Thus, to these 28, take up the mantle, take the challenge, and speak this truth.

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