Mr. President, spring is finally arriving in Minnesota, even though we had snow last week. It does get to our state a little longer than it does in Washington. But this is the time of year when people start thinking about putting their boats in the water, and they start thinking about making their trips to their cabins. We call it the lake season. It’s also the time of year when farmers are preparing to put their crops in the ground. But this year is going to be different.

The average price of gas just hit $3.45 a gallon in Minnesota and $3.56 per gallon nationally. The price of diesel fuel is at $4.14 per gallon nationally. And of course the price of crude oil is at an unbelievable $118 per barrel. People just can't afford to do the things that they used to. I don't think people usually think of going up to a small lake cabin as a luxury, but it becomes a luxury when gas is this expensive. I’ve heard from constituents who are having to canceling their family road trips or their summer vacations up north because they can't afford the gas that they need to get there. I’ve heard from farmers who are having a hard time making ends meet even in spite of the high commodity prices because of the cost of their inputs.
Diesel fuel for their farm equipment and fertilizer made from natural gas has spiraled out of control. And, of course, it is particularly hard on middle-class and low-income families, because when they have less disposable income and gas goes up to these levels, it is very difficult for them to get  by. The high price of energy has inflated the price of everything from groceries to transportation to home heating. As you know, the presiding officer in your home state of Vermont, it has impacted every sector of our economy, from manufacturing to forestry to farms and small businesses. In cold northern states like Minnesota, spring is when a lot of people, especially senior citizens living on their own, are trying to pay off their natural gas bill from the winter. And they're too afraid to think about how they're going to pay their heating bills next winter if this trend continues. Middle-class families are struggling with the high costs of health care and college education already, and they can't afford this increase in the price of gas. I just heard an expert a few weeks ago talk about if you just look at the past eight, ten years of regular, average middle-class families, their costs for everything from day care to home heating to gas has gone up about $8,000 to $10,000 a year, but their wages have not gone up. They don't have a choice, Mr. President, about how they're going to get to work. In my state, many of them don't have a choice. They have to drive. They have to get to work. They have to get to school. And they have to get to the doctor.

Any wage increase that they may have gotten last year goes straight into their gas tanks. And more often than not, there haven't even been those wage increases. Not a day goes by when I don't hear about the struggle from my constituents in Minnesota. So it's hard for me to understand how recently the president seemed taken aback when someone asked him about $4 gas. The president said -- quote -- "he said you're predicting $4-a-gallon gasoline? That’s interesting. I hadn't heard that." to people in my state, $4 a gallon gas isn't interesting. It is a budget buster for many middle-class families in our state. The fact of the matter is this administration has failed to provide Americans With a meaningful energy policy that would provide relief from high gas and energy prices. This country needs a bold energy policy for the future, a policy that will stabilize prices and give consumers more alternative, reduce our dependence on foreign oil and provide us with the next generation of home-grown biofuels. Brazil has already achieved this energy security. They have leapfrogged in front of our country. Now they can do it with sugar cane. We don't have that much sugar cane here, and we know we have to go to the next generation of biofuels with cellulosic, which is switch grass, perry grass. It is many, many different  things. But we have to put the research and incentives in place. We can do this. We just need the will. We need to pursue a forward-looking energy policy with the same urgency we used to put a man on the moon nearly 40 years ago.
In the long term, this is going to mean strategic investments in research on hybrid electric cars, new solar technology, cellulosic ethanol and other forms of energy from biomass. We should be investing not in oil cartels with the Mideast, but in the farmers and workers in the Midwest. We need better efficiency standards in our cars. We got a start on that in the energy bill with the ten-mile-per gallon increase but we need to do more. We need to do an electricity standard, a portfolio standard for the nation like we have in Minnesota.   Minnesota’s requirement is 25% of our electricity comes from renewables by the year 2025, and it has spurred investment in wind. We’re now third in the country in wind because we've been willing to take that step.

 There are also many things that we need to do in the short term, Mr. President. We can put a stop to oil company giveaways by ending some of those giveaways and tax breaks to oil companies and putting them into a futuristic energy policy focused on renewables. We tried to do that in the energy bill, and as you know, we're just one vote short – one vote short -- of blocking the filibuster. I still believe we can do it. We also have to look at the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. We can stop diverting 50,000 barrels of oil every day into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve. Of course we need to have a petroleum reserve to protect our country in times of emergency. But the time to fill it is not when oil prices are at record highs. Here is what the staff of the strategic, petroleum reserve had to say on the subject six years ago, in 2002. They said -- and this is a quote -- "commercial inventories are low. Retail prices are high. And economic growth is slow. The government should avoid acquiring oil for the reserve under these circumstances."  If this was true in 2002, it's doubly true today. Or maybe I should say it's triply true today since gas prices today are more than triple what they were in 2002. That’s why I was proud to join with my colleague, Senator Dorgan of North Dakota, and others in sending a letter to the president asking him to halt inputs into the strategic petroleum reserve to provide some relief for consumers.

Next, OPEC, another area where we can take immediate action is in our dealings with OPEC nations. OPEC is a cartel of oil-producing countries that meet and decide how much oil to produce and thereby control prices. They make no pretense of having a free-market system. They don't obey the laws of supply and demand. They gather together, they set production which determine prices. As a former prosecutor, I call that kind of behavior collusion, and it's illegal in our country. But the members of OPEC are foreign governments, and so far they have gotten away with it. As oil-exporting nations, the members of OPEC could provide us with some relief. They have the spare capacity to increase production of oil and ease the pain being felt by American consumers and businesses.
But OPEC recently met, Mr. President, as you know, and decided not to increase production, at least until the fall, after the summer driving season I join with my colleagues Senators Schumer and Dorgan to demand that the OPEC nations increase their oil production to provide consumers with much-needed relief. Think about it, this country spends $600,000 every minute on imported oil. $600,000! That is money leaving the pockets of American drivers, going into the coffers of foreign countries. By refusing to step up production, OPEC nations are saying, we don't think that the prices are too high. We want them to go even higher. I don't think that is right. It is time that this administration stepped up and did something about it. If we're going to do business deals with Saudi Arabia and some of these countries, we should have the leverage; this administration should have the leverage to push for more oil from OPEC.

Next, another short-term solution, current prices are simply not justified by supply and demand. The administration likes to tell us that nothing can be done. That is just a case of supply and demand. But that answer does not hold true any longer. Listen to what the oil company executives themselves have to say about this matter. On October 30, 2007, the CEO of Marathon Oil said, "$100 oil isn't justified by the physical demand in the market." That's exactly what he said. $100 oil isn't justified by the physical demand in the market. Ok. Let’s look at what another CEO said. Here we have the CEO of Oil Dutch Shell. The CEO of Oil Dutch Shell said, "The oil fundamentals are no problem. They are the same as they were when oil was selling for $60 a barrel." And on April 1, a senior vice president of Exxon Mobil testified before the house, senior vice president of Exxon Mobil testified that the price of oil should be about $50 to $55 per barrel. He said the price of oil should be about $50 to $55. That was on April 1, 2008.

I note that this is April fool's day, but he did say that the price should be about $50 to $55 per barrel. so why is it trading at $118 if supply and demand don't explain the -- explain the high price of gas what does, there is a frenzy of unmarketted specks ration that is driving marks up to record highs, I would like to share a quote with an analyst at Oppenheimer, who was named by Bloomberg as the top ranked energy specialist in the country. He said I’m absolutely convinced that oil prices should not be a dime above $55 a barrel. Oil speculators include the largest oil institutions in the world. I call it the world's largest gambling hall. It is open 24/7. It is totally unregulated. This is like a highway with no cops, no speed limit and everybody is going 120 miles per hour. Makes you feel really good. Makes the people who are filling up their gas tanks that are paying nearly $4 a gallon makes them feel good like a gambling hall. Why are these trades unregulated? Well, back in 2000 a provision was inserted into the commodity futures modernization act that exempted electronic energy trades from the federal regulation, in the absence of oversight, when was once a small niche market became a booming industry, attracting hedge funds and investment banks, oil and -- gas prices became volatile. It became known as the Enron loophole. It became known as what triggered the western energy crises and cost the economy $35 billion and nearly 600,000 jobs. The federal government has a critical role to play in changing energy markets. History has shown us when enforcement is lax, consumers ultimately pay the price, simply put we need to cross the Enron loophole and strengthen energy oversight of energy trading. I’m pleased to say that Senators Feinstein and Levin have succeeded with this provision in the farm bill. It is another reason to get the farm bill done. I want to commend Collin Peterson and Senators Harkin and Conrad for getting this done.

Finally, short-term solution after the collapse of Enron there was a corporate fraud task force at the department of justice. The task force has since produced more than 1,000 convictions by aggressively pursuing corporate fraud under existing law. What this shows us is that good laws in and of themselves are not enough. We need enforcement. We need a cop on a beat. Any prosecutor can tell that you. And that's why I joined my colleague Senator Cantwell in calling on the president to establish a new division of the corporate fraud task force specifically to apply to energy markets. This new oil and gas market fraud task force would allow us to focus the combined efforts of the department of justice, the FTC, SEC, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
In conclusion, Mr. President, the cost of energy is hurting Americans from all walks of life in businesses. I don't think that we need one silver bullet as we say in my state, we need a silver buck shot. We need a bold energy policy, first of all in the short term that focuses on temporarily suspending deliveries of oil into the strategic petroleum reserve that pressuring -- pressures OPEC nations to increase oil production and closes the Enron loophole and establish the DOJ Oil and Gas Market Fraud task force and then we need the long term. We need to increase vehicle fuel efficiency, make a national commitment to generate electricity from renewables and invest research in cutting-edge technologies for alternative fuel vehicles and renewable energy sources this is what we need to do. The time is now for congress to take strong steps toward creating that bold energy policy. Americans are depending on us.