Witnesses at Tuesday’s Joint Economic Committee hearing stressed the need for a multifaceted, bipartisan approach to solve escalating gas prices.
Senators on both sides of the aisle used the hearing to place blame for America’s gas woes on the opposite party. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-NY), committee chairman, set the tone of the hearing with his opening statement.
“With seven years under their belt, this White House has taken zero proactive steps to reduce our dependence on foreign oil,” said Schumer.
Schumer, who presented plans to lower the demand for oil, repeatedly discredited the Bush administration. He also took a shot at Republican presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-AZ).
“It is a crime against our future that the White House and Republican Congresses since 1995 have opposed increasing fuel economy standards for so many years,” added Schumer.
Republican committee members countered quickly, first when Sen. Sam Brownback (R-KS) pointed to flaws in the Democrat’s primary solution to the gas crises: alternative energy.
“At the end of the day, you still have a gasoline-based system at the present time and into the near future,” said Brownback. “And you’re going to need more oil production and more supply.”
Sen. Bob Bennett (R-UT) chastised the Clinton White House in his opening comments, referring to the administration’s veto which halted legislation to drill for oil in the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Republican’s solution hinges on increasing America’s oil supply.
“If indeed we had proceeded in ANWR at the time congress passed it,” said Bennett, “we would now be receiving from ANWR a million barrels of oil a day.”
“There is an acute shortage of the engineers and scientists, skilled workers, equipment, and of the steel and other commodities that are required to develop new supplies,” said Daniel Yergin, chairman of the Cambridge Energy Resource Center. “As a result, the cost of everything that is required to develop new oil and gas fields is being bid up around the world.”
A majority of the praise granted in Yergin’s report was directed not at the politicians, but towards the general public. Yergin cites a change in public behavior as one the most important responses to the gas crises; these include a focus on fuel economy, changes in transportation behavior, and the shifting focus of companies towards more efficient fuel standards.
There are positive studies in the report: Yergin believes U.S. peak demand for gas has passed in 2007, and that “gasoline demand may well now be on the decline.”
There is hope, too, that the witnesses’ message of bipartisanship had some effect. At some points, senators did admit a need to work across the aisle.
“We got to get at both sides of the equation,” said Brownback, addressing Schumer. “We’ll work with you on the demand side; we agree on most of that. But the supply side is one we must not ignore—we must address [it].”