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Is There A Congressional Solution To High Oil Prices?

OPB | July 2, 2008 2:20 a.m. | Updated: July 17, 2012 1:15 a.m. | Portland, OR

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By Rob Manning

Oil prices are hovering above $140 a barrel, this week. And Oregon’s congressional leaders are responding by filing bills. Rob Manning reports, there don’t appear to be any quick fixes.


Democratic Rep. Earl Blumenauer held his energy press conference at a Northeast Portland park a few yards from a light rail stop.

But before starting, a gas-powered lawn mower had to stop behind him.

Some of Oregon’s Democrats wouldn’t mind hearing more of that sound — gas engines turning off.

Earl Blumenauer is a long-time advocate of building cities around public transit, like Portland’s light rail lines. But he’s been fighting an uphill battle in Congress, much of the time.

Blumenauer’s latest proposal would use high oil prices to accomplish his goal of moving people out of their cars and onto bikes and buses.

Earl Bluemnauer: “We don’t want to be unrealistic. We don’t want to ignore the fact that we’re in a long-term constrained situation with oil. There won’t be more of it. There are more people competing for it. We can empower consumers, to make better choices, and we can reduce demand in this country, so that they’re not held hostage.”

Blumenauer’s colleague, Rep. Greg Walden, though, suggests there can be more oil.

In a recent newsletter to constituents, the Hood River Republican echoed claims by some oil experts that untapped reserves in the U.S. could produce a lot of oil, over time.

Where Walden and Blumenauer — and all of Oregon’s Congressional delegation agreed, though, was on a resolution 63-77 that leaned on regulators to investigate excessive oil speculation.

Northwest Oregon Rep. David Wu, though, wants to go further and limit oil futures trading to people who can actually receive oil shipments.

David Wu:  “I have heard from experts for years that the price of a barrel of oil ought to be around $60 or $70. Instead, it’s around $130, $140 a barrel. A large component of that difference, extra $60 or $70 is rank speculation. It’s a bubble.”

Hundreds of people have shown up to an “energy independence” tour, organized by Democratic Senator, Ron Wyden.

Jean DeMaster is the executive director of low-income service agency, Human Solutions. She says her clients are squeezed between rising utility bills and food costs.

Jean DeMaster: “Imagine you were a low-income mom, with two kids, an 18-month old and a three year-old. You got $528 from TANF, from welfare. Of that, you pay $400 for rent, and you’re left with $128 to pay for food, clothes, medicine, heating. It can’t be done.”

Wyden responded by saying that a country that can afford billions for the war in Iraq, should have money for low-income people’s utility bills.

But among the many energy proposals in Congress, the most likely to pass, may be the cheapest.

For instance, Congressman Blumenauer’s package spans from carpooling incentives to public transit funds for rural areas. Blumenauer says his cheap ideas could pass this year.

Earl Blumenauer: “Items that might be a little more substantive and expensive, frankly, are going to take a little more time, and will require a new administration.”

But with the economy already considered the top election issue in the presidential race, how to confront energy may not just depend on who the next president is — the issue may determine who wins.

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