Regulate oil speculators, Tester says

The Missoulian

by Pamela J. Podger

The way to combat soaring fuel prices is by regulating oil speculators and suspending contributions to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve, according to U.S. Sen. Jon Tester.

Those and other measures could ease the adverse effect high gas prices are likely to have on travelers, especially during the upcoming Memorial Day weekend, Tester said during a visit to Missoula on Friday.

Truckers, farmers, firefighters and others absorb the higher costs each time they fill up their tanks.

Tester was joined by representatives of the trucking and aviation industries, as well a Missoula city official, at a news conference held Friday at Neptune Aviation.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate voted 97-1 to suspend contributions to the nation’s Strategic Petroleum Reserve. A temporary halt could increase oil supplies and thereby reduce the cost of oil, although analysts are divided on whether it will have a meaningful effect for consumers.

If approved, Tester said, this action could place 70,000 barrels of oil on the market each day.

He also wants to terminate tax breaks for the oil industry and instead invest in research for renewable energies such as wind and "clean" coal. He called on the U.S. Department of Justice to punish price gouging and help halt manipulation of oil prices by Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries.

Tester also said he believes that up to $1 a gallon in fuel costs could be attributed to speculation. He said people who trade in oil futures do so without the required margins or regulations imposed on stock traders.

"Right now, there is more oil being traded on paper than actually exists," he said. "We need to crack down on speculators."

He said concerns about fuel prices amount to the highest volume of calls into his offices each day.

"I tell people we’re working on options and looking to fix the problem," Tester said. "The truth is it is very complicated and there is no silver bullet."