Sanders The Energy Emergency

By Senator Bernie Sanders

These are tough times for Americans and Vermonters. Inflation last month was at its highest level in 17 years. Good-paying jobs continue to move overseas, layoffs have been announced at huge corporations like IBM and GM, and increasing numbers of Americans are finding their homes are worth less than their mortgages. The cost of food, even a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk, has risen greatly in the past year. Health care costs continue to soar and more families are uninsured than just a few years ago.

Vermonters are especially hard hit by rising gas and oil prices. In our rural state, many people have to drive a long way to get to work or to a supermarket. In our cold-weather state, when winter comes the cost of heating homes will likely be double what it was last year. Refilling an oil tank is costing many families a thousand dollars - or more. Hundreds and hundreds of people have written or told me how the huge increases in the price of gasoline and fuel oil have made life exceedingly difficult for them and their families.

As a member of both the Senate environment and energy committees, here are four main proposals I am working on to address the energy crisis.

First, the greed of the giant oil companies continues unabated. While Vermonters struggle to make ends meet, neither the companies nor their executives have ever had it so good. Vermonters pay over $4 a gallon for gasoline and $5 a gallon for diesel, yet at the same time Exxon-Mobil has made more profits in the last two years than any company in the history of the world. The five largest oil companies have made more than $600 billion in profits since George W. Bush has been president. In my view, Congress must take on the extremely powerful oil companies and impose a windfall profits tax limiting the obscene profits the oil giants are making and using those tax proceeds to help Americans cope with the cost of rising fuel prices.

Second, many experts believe that speculation is driving up the price of a barrel of oil way beyond what supply and demand and the decline of the dollar would justify. Hedge funds and investment banks are creating a bubble in the price of oil on the energy futures market. Analysts have suggested that the "cost" of speculation may be responsible for between 25 percent and 50 percent of the price of each barrel of oil. This week, as a result of the work by many of us in the Senate, legislation to limit the rampant speculation in oil prices is likely to be considered.

Third, we must make sure vulnerable Americans are protected. Many seniors, disabled persons, and low- and moderate-income families face the prospect of going cold this winter. Yet the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) is funded at 23 percent less than just two years ago, even though energy prices have doubled. To address this crisis, I introduced the Warm in Winter and Cool in Summer Act to double funding for the program. My bill has widespread support, with 48 Senate cosponsors, including 12 Republicans. The Senate majority leader is trying to get it on the floor as soon as possible.

This legislation has a very simple basis. In the United States of America, no one should go cold in the winter. In hot weather states, no elderly person, no sick person, no child, should have to experience heat stroke when the temperature soars to 115 degrees. What is not widely appreciated is that the annual mortality in the U.S. from extreme heat and cold is greater than all the deaths from floods, tornadoes, hurricanes and earthquakes combined since 1998. I hope that through our efforts, and with the very strong support of Senator Patrick Leahy and Representative Peter Welch, we will pass this important legislation in the near future.

Finally, if we are serious about providing real energy solutions in the United States, we must move aggressively to break our dependence on foreign oil and fossil fuels. We can make energy more affordable, enhance our national security, reverse global warming and, in the process, create millions of good-paying jobs.

The opinion piece was run in various newspapers across Vermont.