CUMBERLAND — U.S. Senators Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski (both D-MD) today joined with the Chief of the Cumberland Fire Department, a small business owner and the head of a charitable organization to hear about the impact of high gas prices on Allegany County residents. The Senators pledged to take their message back to Congress and continue their work to overcome partisan obstacles in solving our energy crisis.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski were particularly critical of the partisanship that has blocked consideration of the Stop Excessive Energy Speculation Act, S. 3268. This bill, which both Senators have co-sponsored, would address excessive speculation that may be responsible for a significant portion of crude oil and gas price increases. Some energy experts have testified before Congress that such legislation could cut crude oil prices in half within 30 days.
In July, Senators Cardin and Mikulski introduced the Fair Deal for Volunteers Act, S. 3246, to provide immediate relief for volunteers who use their own cars for charitable purposes. It would remove the current 14-cent deduction per mile limit for taxpayers who use their own cars to assist charitable organizations. By removing the limit, charitable volunteers would be treated the same as other groups whose mileage deductions are adjusted regularly by the IRS. Currently, people who have to drive because of a job-related move or to medical appointments can deduct 27 cents per mile.
Senators Cardin and Mikulski also have co-sponsored the Consumer-First Energy Act, S. 3044, which also has been blocked from consideration in the Senate. This bill addresses the root causes of high gas prices by holding the big oil companies, speculators, and OPEC accountable. It would repeal $27 billion in unnecessary tax breaks for oil and gas companies and use the money for renewable-energy development and energy-efficiency technology. It would give the President authority to declare an energy emergency, making “an unconscionably excessive price” for fuel products illegal and punishable with fines of up to $5 million. And, it would impose a tax on “windfall profits” of the major oil companies unless they invest in alternative, renewable energy sources.
“Our first responders, small business owners and non-profits in Maryland and across the country are hurting because of high gas prices,” said Senator Cardin, a member of the Small Business and Entrepreneurship Committee. “Today, 62% of small business owners use a vehicle in their business and many are facing serious financial problems because of high gas prices. At the same time, we are seeing the effect of high gas prices on our first responders and we are experiencing a decline in services by the non-profit community because they cannot afford the price of gas. In the short-term, we need to provide immediate relief to Americans. In the long-term, we need new policies that will make us energy secure and end our nation’s dependence on foreign oil.”
“Americans are feeling stretched and strained as they face rising fuel costs and food prices. I believe Congress must act now to provide relief to the families and businesses who are struggling to make ends meet. We need to put government back on the side of the people,” said Senator Mikulski. “I know that Marylanders are frustrated, and I take those frustrations with me to the Capitol as I fight to go after the speculators and gas gougers who are manipulating our economy and for federal investments in alternative fuels that will bring costs down.”
The high price of gasoline and diesel fuel has caused the Cumberland Fire Department to allocate financial resources from other areas to keep vehicles on the road. In FY 2008, the fire department exceeded its fuel budget by 31 percent. The department’s fuel costs for its fire and emergency apparatus for the year ending in June 2008 was $41,904.00 as compared to $33,809.00 in June 2007.
The majority of small business owners drive more than 50 miles a day in their automobiles to operate their businesses. Small businesses don't have the same availability of capital in order to buy equipment or the same availability of capital in order to keep their businesses afloat. Many small business owners are mortgaging their homes in order to keep their businesses going. Many are using credit cards with the highest possible interest rates to keep afloat. Now they have additional energy costs.
When President Bush took office in 2001, a gallon of regular gas cost $1.46. More than seven years later, prices have climbed to almost $4 per gallon of regular gas and nearly $5 per gallon of diesel fuel.
Participants in today’s press conference included: William Herbaugh, Chief, Cumberland Fire Department; Courtney Thomas, Executive Director, Human Resources Development Commission; and John Balch, President, PharmaCare of Cumberland.