Regulating gas cost eludes Congress

Experts blame geopolitics, speculators bidding up prices

WASHINGTON – Both the House and Senate are struggling to pass a comprehensive energy plan that would relieve some pressure at the pump.

But the consensus from committee hearings this week is that in a free-market economy, it is next to impossible to regulate gas prices. In a Senate Energy and Natural Resources committee hearing on Thursday, experts blamed geopolitics and speculators bidding oil prices up.

Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said “squeezing Iran” comes with consequences.

“We all for the most part in Washington say it’s in our national security interest to squeeze out Iran. As part of that process, gasoline prices are going to rise. We’ve got to be straight with the American public that that’s what’s happening,” he said.

Also Thursday, the Senate blocked a Democratic plan to remove tax breaks for the big five oil companies: BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Shell. Congress voted 51 to 47 to move forward with the Stop Big Oil Tax Subsidies bill. Sixty votes were needed to advance the bill.

Included in the bill was an amendment for the extension of wind-energy production tax credits. Both Sens. Udall and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., have been pushing for the extension.

The Senate vote happened just hours after President Barack Obama called to act on passing the bill.

“Right now, the biggest oil companies are raking in record profits – profits that go up every time folks pull up into a gas station. On top of these record profits, oil companies are also getting billions a year, billions a year in taxpayer subsidies, a subsidy that they’ve enjoyed year after year for the last century,” Obama said in a speech Thursday.

On the House side, Republicans from the Natural Resources Committee met to speak about energy as it relates to the Republican budget. The budget released by Obama failed in the House on Wednesday, 414 to 0. The budget proposed by Republicans passed the House.

Rep. Scott Tipton, R–Colo., said in a speech this week that the legacy of the Obama administration will be “empty gas tanks and empty pockets.”

“I’m talking to senior citizens that are literally saying ‘how can I afford to fill up my car to be able to go down to the pharmacy to pick up the prescription?’” Tipton said in an interview.

Alex Mickel, owner of Mild to Wild Rafting in Durango, said while gas prices are high, they probably will not limit customers from traveling to Durango this summer. His business has done both rafting and Jeep trail tours around the Durango area since 1989.

“I don’t believe that a family decides not to come to Durango on vacation because it’s going to be an extra $50 in gas,” Mickel said. However, the cost of busing customers to rafting sites can hurt.

“The cost of doing business increases, and that puts a pinch on us. We’ve never had to have a surcharge that you see with a lot of businesses, but as long as we can get enough guests to come with us, we seem to be able to work it out,” Mickel said.

Mickel said, in general, his business has improved since 2008.

House Republicans called for the president to build the Keystone XL Pipeline and to pass the GOP budget, which would expand domestic natural-gas and oil production. It would also limit the Environmental Protection Agency and reduce environmental regulations.

Kelcie Pegher is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C. Reach her at herald@durangoherald.com.

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