WASHINGTON - As gasoline prices hover above $4 per gallon, it is not surprising that people in Michigan's First District are both frustrated and concerned. There is no doubt that fuel prices this high are hurting families in Northern Michigan. Every dollar families have to put in their gas tank is one that they don't spend at the local grocery store, on a family vacation, or on their children's education. In an economy that is still very weak, higher gas prices are putting a strain on our local businesses that could mean the difference between staying open for business or closing your doors permanently.
With gas prices rising seemingly everyday, Washington politicians have been quick to point the fingers of blame at everyone they can. While this might make interesting newspaper headlines, it does nothing to lower gas prices in America. People in Northern Michigan and the rest of the nation expect their elected leaders to act which is why the House of Representatives has taken up three separate pieces of legislation aimed at increasing America's domestic oil production in the Gulf of Mexico.
America is a land blessed with abundant natural resources, and it makes little sense to not fully utilize all that we have. In contrast, some of my colleagues in Washington have argued that increasing oil drilling will have no impact on fuel prices. While I am neither an energy expert nor an economist, I am confident that we can lower oil prices by increasing the supply in the market. Presently, the United States imports over half of its oil supply from overseas - a fact that I believe a majority of people in Northern Michigan are not pleased with. As long as America is dependent on importing oil from abroad, energy prices will never stabilize here at home.
Though the House has done its part to move forward with increasing domestic production, the Senate and White House have so far been hesitant. Instead of focusing on opening up oil resources, they have been working to increase taxes on oil companies as a way to punish them for the high fuel prices. I fear these policies will actually raise fuel prices for Americans as the oil companies will pass the new tax burdens down to the consumer.
As a member of the Natural Resources Committee, I plan to carefully examine policies that will lead to increased oil production. America has expansive oil reserves. According to the Congressional Research Service, the United States has 972.6 billion barrels (or equivalent) of proven fossil fuel reserves. An additional 351.5 billion barrels are estimated as "undiscovered petroleum and gas." In my opinion, Congress has a responsibility to support the use of these reserves rather than rely on foreign sources. Congress should not act like it has a magic wand that will fix the problem overnight, but by taking action now we can help bring down the skyrocketing price of energy. People in Northern Michigan have made it clear to me that paying $100 to fill their gas tank every week is unacceptable and that we in Congress are expected enact policies that will ease the pain at the pump. For decades, lawmakers have pushed this problem down the road until we are now held hostage by foreign sources of energy. To do nothing is no longer an option.
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Rep. Dan Benishek is a general surgeon and is serving in his first term in the U.S. House of Representatives.