Homer Alaska - Opinion

Story last updated at 6:09 PM on Wednesday, June 1, 2011

U.S. needs energy plan, tax reform — now

With Americans feeling pain at the pump and Alaskans often suffering from the highest energy prices, the U.S. Senate's response last week was both predictable and doomed.

Democrats offered a proposal to reduce tax incentives for the five largest oil companies while Republicans simply called for more offshore drilling. These narrow proposals failed to provide immediate relief at the pump and would leave coastal states like Alaska without a nickel of the revenue from offshore development.

Neither bill came close to passing and neither received my support because this isn't about partisan politics for me. We owe it to Americans to develop a national energy policy that includes both renewable and non-renewable resources, including Alaska's enormous oil and gas potential.

A real energy plan must include: incentives and support for energy efficiency; a fair policy for all renewable energy types, including hydropower and biomass; support for domestic production of oil and gas from Alaska's federal lands and waters; and revenue sharing for affected coastal states.

I have also made repeated calls for comprehensive tax reform that would remove incentives for many industries, including oil and gas, in exchange for a flatter and fairer tax code.

The Wyden-Coats-Begich tax reform bill, The Bipartisan Tax Fairness and Simplification Act of 2011, does exactly that. It focuses on the middle class, simplifies the rate structure, reduces the deficit, gets rid of a nightmare of paperwork and reduces the tax rates for businesses to allow them to grow and invest in the U.S. economy.

Under this bill, U.S. companies would no longer face the second highest tax rate among industrialized countries, and the average taxpayer could finish their taxes with a simple, one-page form.

I know urban Alaskans are struggling to fill their gas tanks and those in rural Alaska are flinching when they see the bill for home heating oil.

But eliminating tax incentives for energy companies or penalizing American companies for earning money abroad while they produce oil we need is not going to lower the price of fuel or help consumers.

As we continue to work on a comprehensive energy plan, I recently introduced the Family Account to Save on Transportation Act (FAST Act) to help families deal with high gas prices over next two years.

This bill allows employers to set up pre-tax transportation savings accounts — just like medical savings accounts — to help offset pain of high gas prices on family pocketbooks. The bill will sunset in two years preventing any long-term burden on the federal budget and we estimate that on a $4 gallon of gas, you could save 80 cents a gallon.

We also must bring on-line alternative power sources to buffer power companies from price shocks of rising oil and gas prices. No matter where you are in Alaska, you don't have to go far to find these alternative energy sources: wind, tidal, geothermal and hydropower.

Even in these tough budget times, this is a good investment to strengthen our economy far into the future. Solving our energy security challenge cannot just focus on reducing consumption.

There's no question we must cut use of fossil fuels, especially for transportation, but we also need to increase our domestic production. America is the world's third largest producer of oil, generating about 10 million barrels a day of the nearly 20 million barrels we consume.

Yet even as we reduce consumption, there is still plenty of foreign oil to displace from our markets. Every new oil and gas development buys our country more energy security, while also creating jobs.

That's why I'll continue to advocate for development in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the National Petroleum Reserve — Alaska and offshore in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas.

Both tax reform and our energy future are top priorities for me and both deserve the Senate's immediate attention. We must stop playing politics and wasting time on piecemeal proposals that don't address the real issues. That's why I will keep fighting for a comprehensive energy plan and tax reform plan that work for Alaska, secure our energy future, and keep us on track for long-term fiscal health.

Mark Begich represents Alaska in the U.S. Senate.