Senator John ThuneWhile criss-crossing the state during the Senate’s August recess, it was good to hear the variety of issues that concern South Dakotans.
Some issues tend to be more regionalized, with Ellsworth Air Force Base dominating the discussion in West River, and Missouri River water issues at the forefront in the central region. But from Parker to Buffalo and Aberdeen to Hot Springs, South Dakotans told me that the issue hitting them hardest in the pocketbook is the high cost of gasoline.
The increases we are seeing at the pump are having an impact on farmers, small business owners, and families across South Dakota. The primary cause of high gas prices is our excessive dependence on foreign oil, which was made worse by the disruptions caused by Hurricane Katrina. Although our first priority should be helping the survivors of Hurricane Katrina, we also need to improve and strengthen our national energy policy.
As a newly elected Senator, I have worked hard to pass a comprehensive energy bill, which had been blocked in past sessions of Congress. This bill finally passed in the Senate on July 29, 2005, and was signed into law on August 8, 2005. The bill will help to reduce fuel prices in the long term by encouraging domestic energy production. It also includes a significant ethanol provision I championed in the Senate that will dramatically increase the production and use of ethanol and thereby help to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.
In the short term, as a result of the Hurricane Katrina disaster on the Gulf Coast, President Bush has authorized the release of 30 million barrels of crude oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Also, the Environmental Protection Agency has temporarily lifted environmental restrictions on refineries to allow them to increase production of gasoline. Although market forces play a significant role in setting gas prices, our government needs to continue to attack this problem on all fronts and should ensure that no country or entity unduly benefits from the recent increase in gas prices.
We should also become more energy independent by utilizing our own domestic sources of oil. I will therefore continue to work toward opening a small portion of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to exploration in a manner that is environmentally responsible and sensitive to Alaska’s ecosystem. According to the Department of Interior, an estimated 9 to 16 billion barrels of recoverable oil exists beneath ANWR’s Coastal Plain. I voted earlier this year to permit drilling for oil in ANWR, and will continue to work to ensure that access to these critical ANWR oil supplies becomes a reality.
As we should have been doing 15-20 years ago, we need to be helping ourselves, rather than relying on those outside of the United States for our energy needs. We need more refinery capacity and further energy exploration.
There is no easy, one-size-fits all solution to these challenges facing South Dakotans and the nation. But as shown with the saving of Ellsworth Air Force Base, big problems can be solved if both the public and private sectors work together to find innovative solutions.
I will continue to keep the thoughts and concerns I heard from throughout South Dakota at the forefront of my legislative efforts in Washington.