Tester pushes back on rising fuel prices

With community leaders, Senator details strategy to lower gas prices

(MISSOULA, Mont.) – In the wake of skyrocketing gas prices and ahead of the upcoming holiday travel weekend, Senator Jon Tester today outlined a multi-part strategy to push back on the rising cost of oil.

Several community leaders and business leaders joined Tester today during a news conference at Neptune Aviation in Missoula to discuss specifically how rising gas prices are impacting Montana.

Neptune Aviation, a Missoula-based company, contracts air tankers to fight wildfires across the country and is already dealing with significant increases in fuel prices this season.

"Fuel prices affect so many things here in Montana, from public safety to business to everyday travel," said Neptune Aviation President Kristen Schloemer-Nicolarsen, one of the participants joining Tester today. "A lot of us are waiting for some common sense ideas on the rising cost of oil."

Other participants included Montana Senator Dave Wanzenried, a former trucking industry executive, and Bruce Bender, Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Missoula.

Tester noted that according to the U.S. Department of Energy, Montana households are paying an average of $4,721 on gas every year.  That's $2,739 per year more than when President Bush took office seven years ago.  Tester added Montanans will spend $1.03 billion more on gas this year than they did in 2001.

"But it's time to work together to find solutions instead of pointing fingers," Tester said before outlining his gas prices strategy.

The plan, which Tester calls S.T.O.P., involves several components:

  • SUSPENDING     the Bush Administration from diverting oil to the Strategic Petroleum     Reserve (SPR).  Tester noted that the government currently sends     70,000 barrels a day at around $120 per barrel to the underground reserve,     which is nearly full.  The Senate overwhelmingly voted this week to     suspend oil shipments to the SPR.
  • TERMINATING     tax loopholes for big oil companies.  Tester said oil companies that     make tens of billions in profit every year don't need the Bush     Admnistration's tax breaks.
  • OPPOSING oil     market manipulation.  Tester said OPEC, the Organization of Petroleum     Exporting Countries, is manipulating the oil market and using oil     production as a political tool.  Tester supports allowing the U.S.     Attorney General to take action against any country that knowingly     manipulates oil prices.  Many OPEC countries, like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait,     rely on America's     military for their security.  Others, like Venezuela, are openly hostile     to American interests. 
  • PUNISHING     oil companies that are caught gouging oil prices.  Tester supports     giving the President of the United States authority to     declare an energy emergency if there is an oil shortage or disruption.     During such an emergency, it would be illegal for the biggest oil     companies to set "an unconscionably excessive price."

Tester also said speculation in the oil market has driven up gas prices, noting that "more oil is traded on paper than actually exists."  Tester said the plan he supports cracking down on speculators who artificially drive up oil prices.

Tester added that the Farm Bill, which passed Congress this week, will also help lower fuel costs in the long term.  The measure contains historic new investments in renewable energy through agriculture products, including Tester's provision to create a crop insurance program for farmers who grow camelina, a plant that does not compete with food crops and can be converted into biodiesel.  

"Pushing back on rising gas prices isn't an overnight project," Tester said.  "But these are a few steps we can take right now to find solutions to this urgent problem that hits folks right in the wallet."