July 3, 2008

Gas Prices a Political Pit Stop Focus

By Shane Frederick, The Free Press, Mankato, Minn.

Jul. 3--MANKATO -- With the Fourth of July weekend fast approaching, the price of gas is certainly on the minds of holiday travelers.

So, naturally, soaring energy costs were the hot topics for a pair of politicians Wednesday.

Sen. Norm Coleman and Rep. Tim Walz made separate stops here to pitch plans to cope with the energy crisis.

"People are worried about what they'll fill first, their tank or their credit limit. It's pretty daunting" Coleman said, while speaking to a group of about 60 agriculture-industry leaders at Mankato Implement Wednesday evening.

"And that's for a car," the Republican added, pointing to the pair of giant, John Deere diesel tractors parked behind him in the company's shop.

Coleman, who also made stops at a St. Paul printing business, a Rochester transportation company and an Albert Lea engineering firm before flying to Mankato, said all possible solutions to the problem, which has also affected food and other costs, should be put on table. He has authored a bill that includes: opening up sections of the outer continental shelf off the coast of Florida for oil and gas development, starting an ethanol pipeline loan guarantee program, creating incentives for nuclear energy, developing coal-to-liquid technology and supporting alternative energies such as solar, wind and fuel cells.

"We need to produce more and consume less," he said. "It's not a complex formula."

Coleman also included ethanol production in his talk.

"It would be a tragic mistake to pull the rug out on renewables," he said. That would only increase our dependency on foreign oil and only raise the price of gas."

On Wednesday morning, Walz held an event at the Mankato Shell gas station where he called upon President Bush to "jawbone" oil companies to lower gas prices in order to help the sluggish economy.

Joined by station owner Steve Martin and Paul Kvitek, owner of Paul's Plumbing & Heating of Eagle Lake, Walz compared the proposal, which he sent to Bush in a formal letter on Monday, to President John Kennedy's request to steel manufacturers to lower prices in 1961.

"Working people, middle-class families, farmers and small businesses in southern Minnesota are feeling economic pain at the gas pump -- and it hurts," the Democratic congressman said in a statement. "Locally run gas stations like the one we're at today are not to blame for the current situation. Stations like this one can barely make a profit on a gallon of gas and are just as frustrated by the situation as the rest of us."

Walz also called on the passing of a series of initiatives under consideration in Congress, including a price gouging prevention act, a grant program for mass-transit authorities, a bill demanding that oil companies start exploration on undeveloped land they already lease and another directing the Commodity Futures Trading Commission to curb excessive speculation on the cost of oil.


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