It's a nationwide problem, but we have an additional burden of distance in our state. Families in rural America have to travel a much greater distance to work, to school, or to the doctor. And rising fuel costs also have a profound effect on farmers in the field.
Last year was the most expensive harvest on record, and this year's planting season doesn't look to be much of an improvement when it comes to fueling the equipment needed to get our crops in the ground.
But what can be done? There is a two-part answer. First, we have to take short-term measures to bring the price of fuel down as soon as possible. But more importantly, we must adopt a domestic energy strategy that ends our addiction to oil controlled by OPEC. Simply put, words are not enough – we need strong action.
In the short term, there are things Congress can do to help, but only if we have the will to implement them. I agree with President Bush's recent call to stop depositing into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve – which is why I called on him to take that step last September, the last time gas prices were reaching over $3 a gallon. But Americans demand, and deserve, more than this first step. I support the short-term release of barrels from the Reserve to let out some pressure from the market. Releasing oil from the Strategic Reserve would help stabilize prices and pass along savings to working families. Every little bit helps.
Last year I also became an original cosponsor of the FREE Act, which stands for Federal Response to Energy Emergencies. The FREE Act would give the President the immediate ability to declare an energy emergency, and give the Federal Trade Commission and Department of Justice increased authority to investigate and prosecute price gouging by oil companies.
I am also supportive of a temporary relaxation of some environmental and shipping rules that will make it easier for us to process and transport fuel throughout the United States. The EPA, for example, has approved in the past the use of "winter blend" gasoline and some shipping rules have been relaxed.
Looking long term, we must begin the process of weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels. And as many of us throughout the heartland already know, we have a big part of the solution to rising gas prices growing in our fields.
Those of us in South Dakota have believed for quite some time that renewable biofuels like ethanol and biodiesel are a key way that America can re-assert control over its energy needs and eliminate dependence on foreign oil.
We know that our addiction to oil costs us a great deal � both at the pump and in terms of our national security. Renewable biofuels present us with a tremendous opportunity to address that problem � the opportunity to end our reliance on foreign oil; the opportunity to create thousands of good jobs in rural America; the opportunity to strengthen national security; and the opportunity to get a handle on out of control gas prices.
Unfortunately, for the last six years, we've been fighting a tough battle against big oil companies, who have fought us tooth and nail in our efforts develop a vibrant, sustainable ethanol industry. The good news is that the tide is turning. I believe that people of all political parties � especially those in rural America � just aren't going to stand by and be held hostage any longer.
The special interests and the long time foes of renewable energy will put up a fight, but there is too much at stake � our national security, economic security, and opportunity for millions of American families � for Congress to sit back and let the big oil companies continue to drive our nation's energy policy.