Statement of Senator James M. Jeffords, I-Vt.
Legislative Hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
S. 1772, the Gas Price Act of 2005 Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this hearing, and thanks to all the witnesses for providing testimony to the Committee. I am certain that every member of this Committee has heard from their constituents about gas prices. The nationwide pump price for gasoline has set a new record this year. Mr. Chairman, when our constituents are hurting financially, we have to make sure that we are correctly responding to high gasoline prices when we formulate legislation. I do not believe this bill is the correct response. Instead of punishing the refineries for price gouging – at a time our nation can least afford it – I believe this bill rewards them for bad behavior with the promise of new subsidies and lax regulation. My constituents in Vermont should not be asked to further boost the record-profits of oil companies at the very same time they struggle to pay their winter heating bills. I also have grave concerns about the environmental impacts of this legislation. I have seen no evidence that environmental permitting is the reason for a lack of refinery capacity. Nor am I convinced that relaxing our environmental laws will do anything to lower gas prices, either in the short-term or the long-term. But it is clear that changing our environmental laws is likely to lead to increased pollution at the expense of public health. This is unacceptable. The correct response, I believe, would be to promote sound policies that encourage conservation, boost the supply of clean fuels and protect the environment. This bill repeals or modifies several sections of the new energy law that was just enacted, including sections on refinery revitalization and new loan guarantees for refineries making gasoline and ultra-clean diesel. How are we to know that these provisions have not worked, when they are a little more than two months old? We also gave refiners a 50 cent-per-gallon fuel blenders credit in the new highway law to make the very fuels we would subsidize in this bill. Instead of giving an additional $1.5 billion in loan guarantees, we should be urging federal agencies to implement the program that Congress just passed. I also am concerned, Mr. Chairman, that this bill makes additional changes to the Clean Air Act in the name of addressing boutique fuels. These changes go beyond those in our new energy law. This bill exempts states that have received fuel waivers from accounting for any resulting air pollution under the Clean Air Act. It also attempts to reduce the number of boutique fuels, without taking into account what we have done in the new energy law as well. The bill would also make far-reaching changes in the delicate federal-state structure of judicial review set forth in our environmental laws. I am concerned these could actually result in additional litigation and delay. It is my hope that we can get to the heart of some of these issues today. If we don’t, Mr. Chairman, I am afraid that our constituents will pay higher prices at the pumps and breathe dirtier air. The Washington Post recently reported that the average price of a gallon of regular gas peaked at $3.07. Of that, the nation's refineries were getting an estimated 99 cents on each gallon sold. That was more than three times the amount the refineries earned a year ago. These profits have been made with the environmental regulations in place, and when waivers were granted after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I will be listening closely for any documented evidence that witnesses may have to show that environmental regulations are actually contributing to increases in gasoline prices in any significant way. Thank you again, Mr. Chairman for holding this hearing. I look forward to hearing from the witnesses.