I want to speak briefly with the Chairwoman of the Agriculture Committee if she wouldn't mind, on one other topic. That is the important economic issue for families and businesses in Minnesota, and that's the recent spike in gas prices. Now, we do have some good things in the Farm Bill that will help with this, including the promotion of energy and biofuels, but our talk today here, is to discuss the recent spike of gas prices in Minnesota, a problem that is disrupting commerce and hurting consumers, small businesses, and farmers across the state and throughout our region. 

In Minnesota, the average gas price is $4.25, 40 cents higher than a week ago and over 80 cents only more than a month ago. It was, in fact, a few days ago the highest in the country, higher than Honolulu. It happened all of a sudden in literally a two-week period. That's a significant increase which puts family budgets under severe pressure. I'm focused on immediate relief and I'm taking actions now so we can avoid similar gas price spikes in the future.

With Memorial Day around the corner, the start of the summer driving season is upon us, and this kind of price spike is simply outrageous.  To cut back on costs, some families are already putting off family trips and scaling back family vacations. I have already heard from families who have canceled or scaled back their plans, but there are some things you can't put off, like driving to work, and like going to the doctor's office. More money to fill up the tank means less money for food, housing, and everything else that families need.  Families in Minnesota just can't afford an 80-cent spike in the price of a gallon of gas. Neither can business owners who need to ship their goods to market or farmers who rely on diesel fuel to keep their equipment running.

Now, we know what's causing the price increase. Supply shortages resulting from the simultaneous closure of several oil refineries in the Midwest. We also know what is not causing the price increase. The price of crude oil hasn't moved. We're at about $96 a barrel, similar to where prices were a month ago. In fact, the national trend in gas prices which tracks the price of crude hasn't moved much either. OPEC hasn't been jacking up their prices, we didn't have a hurricane or even a blizzard that would affect supply or prices, and the increase hasn't been caused by a pipeline rupture or geopolitical threat. Rather, the price spike has resulted largely from the combination of a number of refineries going offline for scheduled and unscheduled maintenance that serve the Upper Midwest to prepare for summer fuel blends. I understand that refineries need to adjust their plans and occasionally perform upgrades to protect workers' safety and repair equipment, but scheduled routine maintenance should not be an excuse for major gasoline shortages and price spikes.

Three refineries, Mr. President, in Indiana, Illinois and Flint Hills, Minnesota, currently shut down for maintenance or upgrades. A fourth in Wisconsin is currently offline as they turn their production over to summer fuel blend, and a fifth refinery in St. Paul Park, Minnesota, remained down longer than expected, but I understand that the refinery is again operational. The result of all these closures, Minnesota and other parts of the Upper Midwest simply don't have enough refined gasoline to make it to the market right now. In this day and age where we have a surplus of fuel, where we're drilling record amounts in North Dakota, where we don't see a huge increase in the price of oil, this just shouldn't be happening.

That's why last Thursday I called on the Department of Energy to thoroughly review the timing of scheduled maintenance operations and to take action to address future supply problems that are preventable. I have also spoken with the Department of Energy about ways to resolve the issue quickly and prevent disruptions down the road. I'm working with the D.O.E and industry partners on legislation that addresses known scheduled closures for refineries for maintenance. Having improved information could serve as an early warning system to protect consumers from production problems within the refinery industry. With more transparency and more lead time, fewer retailers will have the opportunity to purchase fuel at prices that better reflect the underlying costs of crude oil and better reflect supply and demand across the country.

I also believe that refineries should give immediate notification of any unplanned outages and I'm working to address this as well. I'm also working with the Secretary of Energy to look at the potential for additional refined fuel storage capacity in our region. Minnesota has less storage capacity for refined products than other parts of the country, making us more vulnerable to the kinds of refinery outages we have experienced this year, both planned and unplanned. If we had additional storage in place, we could better insure fair and consistent prices for our consumers.

This week, I talked to all the major oil companies that owned these refineries, and it looks as though additional shipments from a pipeline are helping to increase supplies. This should provide some relief. Petroleum marketers in Minnesota have reported that spot prices in the wholesale market were down by 30 cents, but that drop has not yet reached our consumers, Mr. President. I believe that we need an all or above plan to get serious about building a new energy agenda for America. This, of course, means less dependence on foreign oil, more domestic production like we are seeing in North Dakota, natural gas, and of course biofuels. It also means tougher vehicle efficiency standards that help cars to go further on a tank of gas.

My focus today, Mr. President, is on our immediate problem. We need to get refineries up and running and get gas prices down so that we can all begin to enjoy this summer. I look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Energy and my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to address the recent and unnecessary spike in gas prices and to prevent this from happening again. Thank you Mr. President. I yield the floor.