A National Crisis

Calling skyrocketing gasoline prices "a national emergency," Senator Bernie Sanders in a Senate floor speech outlined long-term and short-term solutions to the crisis, including an excise tax on oil companies to reduce gas prices and a major commitment to develop alternative sources of energy. "If we don't act boldly and rapidly to lower gas prices, the economic situation for millions of middle-class families and working Americans will continue to deteriorate," Sanders said. "Record-breaking o

Calling skyrocketing gasoline prices "a national emergency," Senator Bernie Sanders in a Senate floor speech outlined long-term and short-term solutions to the crisis, including an excise tax on oil companies to reduce gas prices and a major commitment to develop alternative sources of energy.

"If we don't act boldly and rapidly to lower gas prices, the economic situation for millions of middle-class families and working Americans will continue to deteriorate," Sanders said. "Record-breaking oil and gas prices are a crisis not only for commuters going to work, especially in rural areas, but also for family farmers, small businesses, truckers, airlines, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, tourists and indeed every sector of our economy."

Over the long-term, Sanders said the United States must break its dependence on fossil fuels by making a major commitment to the development of alternative, renewable sources of energy. A member of the Senate energy and environment committees, he has been a leader in that effort.

In the short-term, he outlined a comprehensive, four-step package to lower gas prices including an excise tax on oil companies, closing a loophole that lets speculators drive up oil prices, releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and breaking up OPEC.

A 23 percent excise tax on oil company profits would raise about $35 billion this year, enough to provide a six-month suspension in federal gas and diesel taxes. Suspending the tax could reduce prices by 37 cents a gallon. It also would allow states to suspend all or part of their gas and diesel taxes. "Oil companies should be allowed to make a reasonable profit, but the American people are sick and tired of being ripped off by outrageous profiteering," Sanders said. He also would give the Federal Trade Commission authority to fine oil companies as much as $150 million for illegal price gouging if they did not directly pass along the savings from the reduction in federal and state gas taxes.

Sanders also urged Congress to rein in speculators by closing what has been called the "Enron Loophole" that Congress created in 2000 as part of the Commodity Futures Modernization Act. Closing the loophole would subject electronic energy markets to proper regulatory oversight by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission and prevent price manipulation and excessive speculation.

Another way to lower the price of gasoline would be to stop the flow of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and immediately release oil from the federal stockpile. There now are more than 700 million barrels of oil in the reserve, and the administration plans to put an additional 13 million barrels of oil into the stockpile. Continuing to fill the reserve has increased gas prices by as much as 25 cents a gallon, according to experts at Goldman Sachs.

Finally, Sanders called for the United States to invoke international trade rules to break up the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies, the illegal price-fixing cartel.

"The bottom line is this: Congress and the president can no longer sit idly by while Americans are getting ripped off at the gas pump, the economy deteriorates, and Exxon Mobil, greedy speculators, and OPEC are allowed to make out like bandits pushing oil and gas prices higher and higher," Sanders said. "The time for action is now. We need to lower gas prices."

To read a editorial in the Bennington Banner regarding Senator Sanders' ideas, click here.