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Olympia Snowe

Energy Crisis Demands Swift, Comprehensive Action
By U.S. Senator Olympia J. Snowe
Jul 25, 2008 - 10:25:07 PM

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Senator Olympia Snowe represents the State of Maine in the United States Senate.
Every morning I open my newspaper to the same story: the ramifications of energy markets. The inordinate price of gas has made daily errands like filling up at the pump or grocery shopping expensive and even painful experiences. In a world where fuel at the pump costs $4.10 according to AAA, where the price of oil hovers around $130 per barrel of oil and could easily spike up or down, and where the amount spent annually by American households on energy in the last six years soared from approximately $2,600 to an astonishing $5,000, Congress must act to reverse these ominous and unsustainable trends and help American families cope with this intolerable economic climate.

As a longtime supporter of enhanced transparency in our energy markets, I worked closely with my Senate colleagues to successfully close the Enron Loophole through an amendment in the Farm Bill and recently introduced legislation to improve regulations on foreign markets that trade US energy. While corrupt market abuse is undoubtedly a problem that needs to be addressed and does contribute to energy prices, we must be bolder in our attempts to change our failed energy policies. Americans are suffering through a distressing summer and dreading the approaching winter. We must forge a bipartisan consensus that is committed to shaping landmark, comprehensive energy legislation to turn the tide on our dependence on foreign oil and discover clean, renewable resources that will not only save our pocketbooks but our planet as well.

A comprehensive energy plan must tap into our nation's vast reservoir of renewable resources and provide incentives for further research and exploration of potential energy sources. In May the Department of Energy released a report stating that wind energy alone could produce up to 20 percent of our nation's electricity. Yet by not extending renewable production tax credits (as we did failed to do in 2000, 2002, and 2004), we diminish the incentive to invest in this clean, renewable resource and production inevitably declines. As seen by the growth in the industrial production of wind blades, turbines, fiberglass, and towers, developing wind energy will put thousands of Americans to work and establish energy independence in our own backyard.

Geothermal power is another resource with the potential to transform our domestic energy production. Last year, I met with President Grimmson of Iceland who relayed to me how geothermal power now provides 93 percent of the heat for residential homes on his island. And not only is the United States the greatest producer of geothermal power, as the President noted, but we also possess the world's largest potential for additional geothermal capacity. Yet we do not have in place current policies to realize this limitless potential. We must provide the incentives for homeowners to develop clean American geothermal heating or cooling systems for their homes. These incentives include extending energy efficiency tax credits for new homes, new commercial buildings, and home retrofits that were included in the 2005 Energy Bill.

Mainers know all too well the brutal reality of a cold winter coupled with high heating oil costs. Even in the summer months, the uncertainty and fear of the approaching winter is headline news. Last year at this time, prices were at a challenging $2.70 a gallon - for the Mainer who, on average, goes through 1,000 gallons of oil - that's $2,700. The price of oil now is $4.70, meaning that it will cost a Mainer $4,700 just to stay warm! Congress must act quickly and effectively before this looming crisis becomes a disaster.

I have consistently fought to increase funding for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and the Senate is looking at allocating an extra $2.5 billion to the fund. While this program is crucial to helping low-income families and seniors, we can no longer simply "patch" the problem of rising energy costs. Our national energy policy must reflect the changing economic climate and our ever-increasing dependence on foreign oil.

Thus I have called on the president and congressional leaders to join forces and convene an emergency summit to address what is a burgeoning energy crisis. This is a decisive moment where party affiliation must be cast aside for the best interests of our country. As public officials, we have an obligation to our constituents to quell surging energy prices and ensure that families don't have to choose between filling their cars with gas and feeding their children. As Americans, we have the responsibility to set the country on a course for energy independence and self-sufficiency. And as stewards of our planet, we have the unique and unprecedented opportunity to reverse the disastrous effects of climate change by seeking clean, renewable energy sources and breaking the chains of oil dependency for generations to come.

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