Rep. John Kline recently wrote about the skyrocketing energy costs that are squeezing the budgets of American families (Opinion Exchange, May 10).
What he failed to note, however, is that for the last eight years the Bush administration has failed to show the bold leadership required to address the energy crisis. We need leadership that will set the bar high, invest in cutting-edge technologies and homegrown energy, and take firm steps that can bring consumers relief today.
When John F. Kennedy called our country together to put a man on the moon, he knew we had to break out of the old mind-sets and break through to new technologies. What our country needs now is the same level of vision -- a national energy policy that will bring consumers relief in the short term and greater energy independence in the long term.
Permanent relief will require a policy that develops renewable sources of energy, improves efficiencies and reduces our dependence on foreign oil. If we roll back the billions of dollars in tax giveaways that oil companies are receiving even during times of record profits, we can reinvest that money in long-term solutions such as the next generation of clean, homegrown fuels and technology for hybrid and electric cars and trucks. Instead of investing in the sultans of Saudi Arabia, we should be investing in the farmers and workers of the Midwest.
But we must also give consumers immediate relief. The 2007 Energy Bill, signed into law in December, was the first step. It raised federal fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks for the first time in decades. The average family could save as much as $1,000 a year in gasoline costs as a result.
We should also suspend purchases of oil for the Strategic Petroleum Reserve until world oil prices come down -- a measure that passed the Senate overwhelmingly on Tuesday. Our country needs a reserve, but we should not be taking as much as 70,000 barrels of oil off the market every day at a time of record prices.
We must also reduce energy-market speculation that is driving oil prices higher. Oil executives have testified recently that normal market fundamentals cannot explain the recent spike in oil prices. One said that oil should be selling for about $55 per barrel. Then why is it trading at upwards of $120?
A frenzy of unregulated speculation in the futures markets is driving prices up in what one oil analyst called "the world's largest gambling hall.'' By tightening the rules on margin traders and preventing futures traders from routing their trades through offshore markets to avoid federal regulation, we can make the market less volatile and save consumers some money at the pump.
Finally, we can do more to protect consumers from price-gouging. Until now, enforcement has been lax, and consumers have paid the price. When Congress asked the Federal Trade Commission to look into gas-price increases following hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it found 15 major examples of price-gouging at the refining, wholesale or retail level. The president should have the authority to step in during times of shortages or unusual price spikes and prosecute gasoline price-gouging at the retail level.
The spike in world energy prices has complicated causes, and there is no one silver bullet to solve the problem. But with something like silver buckshot, we can give consumers a fair break at the pumps today and a fair shot at greater energy independence in the future.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. Senate.