By U.S. Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-Md.)
Americans are feeling the pinch of higher energy costs. A recent nationwide poll shows that 60% of families are cutting spending as they struggle to pay for rising electric bills and gas prices.
It is a shock to realize that when President Bush took office in 2001, a gallon of regular gas cost $1.46. More than seven years later, prices have climbed to an all-time high of $4.02 per gallon of regular gas and $4.77 per gallon of diesel fuel.
In the wake of sky-rocketing energy prices, I am disappointed that a Republican minority recently prevented the Senate from even considering legislation that I believe would provide American families with real help in dealing with these rising costs.
The Consumer-First Energy Act, S. 3044, which I co-sponsored, addresses the root causes of high gas prices by holding the big oil companies, speculators, and OPEC accountable. It would repeal $17 billion in unnecessary tax breaks for oil and gas companies and use the money for renewable-energy development and energy-efficiency technology through a designated Energy Independence and Security Trust Fund.
The bill also would give the President authority to declare an energy emergency, making an unconscionably excessive price for fuel products illegal and punishable with fines of up to $5 million. Additionally, S. 3044 would create a permanent tax on windfall profits of the major oil companies. Companies would be exempt from the tax if they invest their profits in clean, affordable, and domestically produced renewable energy.
I think this measure is a reasonable approach to what I consider unreasonable behavior by oil companies. Consider this: In 2002, profits for the five largest oil companies were $29 billion; in 2007, those profits more than quadrupled to $124 billion. Instead of reinvesting these profits in renewable fuels, improving infrastructure, or increasing capacity to ease rising prices, oil companies have spent $185 billion on stock buybacks.
I dont begrudge oil companies from earning a profit or from benefiting their shareholders, but I do object to their lack of investment in improving domestic infrastructure during what is a serious energy crisis. Oil companies would easily avoid any windfall profits tax by reinvesting in technology that will help this nation wean itself from OPEC oil and develop secure, stable, clean, and affordable domestic sources of energy.
American families are looking for relief in the face of rising energy costs. At the same time, we must move our nation from its dependence on foreign oil and develop alternative, renewable energy sources for the future. I believe the Consumers-First Energy Act would help achieve those two goals and I will continue to push for its passage.