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Upton: Common-Sense Fixes to Pain at the Pump

Despite some easing over the past month, buying a tank of gas still takes a big bite out of the monthly budget — money that could be used for life’s other necessities.

Expensive energy squeezes hardworking Americans’ take-home pay and family budgets. And higher prices also put stress on job-creating small businesses, causing growth and profits to shrink. Worse yet, with the summer driving season just around the corner, increased demand could push the cost of gasoline even higher.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are a lot of reasons gasoline prices more than doubled since President Barack Obama took office. But policies promoted by the current White House and the approach Democrats took while in control of Congress in 2009 and 2010 clearly contributed to these increases.

Since taking the House majority in January 2011, Republicans navigated a different direction, offering a series of common-sense solutions to ease pain at the pump. Instead of trying to artificially reduce prices by selling our emergency oil reserves, mandating and subsidizing alternatives that are even more expensive or cynically blaming business bogeymen, we propose better answers: Create more supply and cut red tape.

In other words, we rely on market forces — not new regulations or political rhetoric — to reduce gasoline prices.

Last year, as part of our American Energy Initiative, the House passed bipartisan legislation to streamline the permitting process for Alaskan oil exploration and a plan to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline — both measures would increase supplies of safe North American energy and reduce gasoline prices.

Yet the president opposes these two simple, common-sense ideas and, as a result, they remain stalled in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

In the next several weeks, the House will move two additional measures from the American Energy Initiative, taking further steps to address the upward spiral of higher prices.

Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) authored the first bill. It directs the Environmental Protection Agency to delay further action on a series of pending new regulations on refineries until we better understand their cumulative effect on transportation fuel prices. If allowed to go forward immediately, these EPA directives could raise gasoline prices and contribute to the closure of American refineries.

Heaping a host of uncoordinated regulations on businesses will only increase the price of gasoline, with little environmental benefit. But the Obama administration still wants to push ahead with its crusade.

A recent Washington Post editorial even labeled the EPA an “agency out of control” after one of its senior officials expressed his “crucify them” enforcement philosophy. Clearly it’s time to hit the pause button. And that’s exactly what this legislation does.

Rep. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) has crafted the second measure we’ll consider in the next several weeks. It ensures that our country replaces any oil drawn down from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve with opportunities for new domestic production. The legislation directs the secretary of Energy to develop a plan to increase the percentage of federal land that is leased for energy exploration by the same percentage as any proposed drawdown from the SPR.

We can and should develop more American resources. Currently only
2 percent of our offshore and 5 percent of our onshore federal lands are leased. Federal fiat should not bottle up these vast domestic resources. Nor should the president attempt to use the SPR as a way to manage domestic gasoline prices in an election year.

This bill will ensure that if the White House draws down our current supplies in the SPR, they will be replaced with additional domestic resources. This added supply — not presidential micromanagement — will help keep prices in check moving forward.

Taken together, these two measures will lower costs on domestic refineries and increase the amount of American energy resources. Reducing regulatory burdens and expanding supply will lead to lower prices at the pump — not through the heavy hand of the federal government setting quotas or producing more red tape but by relying on the market power of supply and demand.

Unlike the last Democratic majority that brought forward legislation loaded with thousands of pages of mandates and taxes, our approach is different. These two bills are simple, targeted, straightforward solutions to reduce gasoline prices.

While the president and others in Washington continue to give speeches vilifying businesses and blaming someone else, Congressional Republicans plan to advance these common-sense bills in the next several weeks. We hope like-minded Democrats will join us.

Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) is chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee.

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