Tester calls on Senate Republicans to explain vote for higher gas prices

Senator says lower gas prices start with bringing big oil companies back to reality

(WASHINGTON, D.C.) – Jon Tester is calling on his Republican colleagues in the U.S. Senate to explain why they voted today for higher gas prices in Montana.

Senate Republicans voted to block the Consumer-First Energy Act.  The legislation needed 60 votes in the Senate to move forward, but only received 51 votes.

"This bill was about common sense and putting good ideas to work," said Tester, a member of the Senate Energy Committee.  "Lowering prices at the pump is going to take a smart mix of ideas, and it would have started with this legislation.  Instead, we took a step backward."

Tester added that the U.S. has opportunity to drill for oil "in places that make sense," like the Bakken shale formation that stretches across Eastern Montana.  The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the region holds an estimated 4.3 billion barrels of oil.

The Consumer-First Energy Act would have taken several immediate steps to lower out-of-control gas prices, which now average more than $4 per gallon nationwide.  Tester noted that diesel, which fuels Montana agriculture, is already close to $5 per gallon.

"These gas prices hurt.  They especially hurt hardworking people in Montana and across rural America," Tester said during a speech on the Senate floor today.  "High gas prices mean high prices for consumer goods.  It means fewer jobs.  Middle class families are getting pinched hard by these high prices.  And for low-income folks, high gas prices are unbearable."

The Consumer-First Energy Act would have:

  • Rolled back $17 billion in President Bush's tax breaks for the nation's biggest oil companies.  The tax breaks went into effect under the last Congress, under Republican leadership.  Tester said it's "time to bring big oil companies back to reality."
  • Imposed a permanent windfall tax on big oil companies.  Last year the five biggest oil companies profited $124 billion.  Revenue from the tax would have been used to invest in alternative energy.
  • Protected consumers from high gas prices caused by oil speculation.  The bill would have increased oversight of futures trading.
  • Given the U.S. authority to sue OPEC (Middle Eastern and African countries that produce oil) for price-fixing and manipulating oil prices.

"I remember when gas was a $1.46," Tester said in his speech today.  "It wasn't that long ago.  It was before the Bush Administration took over.  That was before the War in Iraq.  Before speculators and market manipulators spiraled out of control.  Before that $17 billion Bush tax cut for our nation's biggest oil companies."