Steamboat Springs Oil and gas companies are withholding production and largely to blame for rising gas and grocery prices, Congressman John Salazar said in Steamboat Springs on Wednesday.
U.S. Rep. Salazar, a San Luis Valley Democrat, held a question-and-answer period with local policy-makers at 8 a.m. at Centennial Hall, then with Steamboat Pilot & Today editorial staff, as part of a sweep through Northwest Colorado. He said the oil and gas industry's production does not match its capabilities.
"Is the oil and gas industry manipulating prices? I would say so. My numbers show that production was at 80 percent during Memorial Day when it is usually around 96 percent this time of year," he said. "They try to blame the ethanol production (for high grocery prices), but let me tell you, the reason the food prices are so high is because 50 percent of grocery prices at the store is based on transportation, and transportation is driven up directly by the price of fuel."
Regarding energy concerns, Salazar said he supported the "Use It or Lose It" bill, which would have required oil companies to drill within 10 years on land already leased or risk losing the lease. The bill failed to receive the two-thirds majority needed to pass the House of Representatives.
"This bill sends a clear message to the oil and gas industry that they should develop what leases they already have available," Salazar said. Oil companies have 68 million acres under leases across the nation, with trillions of barrels of oil that remain untapped, he said. Forcing them to use land already leased would spur competition and drop energy costs, he said.
Salazar said oil companies have access to resources they are not developing, despite gas prices he said could reach $7 a gallon.
"They're not really pushing," he said. "I don't think it's a shortage problem."
Responding to a question at Centennial Hall from Steamboat Springs School Board member Laura Anderson, regarding the direction of national education policy, Salazar said he had heard concerns from across the state's Third Congressional District about schools struggling with the No Child Left Behind structure.
He said he was optimistic that fully funding the program would help bring the schools up to nationally mandated standards.
"We need to put our money where our mouth is and provide for new engineers," he said.
Salazar also addressed the local concerns of Routt County and asked meeting attendees whether they are seeing large changes in the forests because of beetle kill.
"Every time I've traveled through here and seen the forest changing, it's bothered me more and more," he said. Salazar was scheduled to visit a pellet processing and biomass plant in Walden later Wednesday.
He also urged local leaders to be proactive about energy conservation.
"I would encourage you local officials to stay on the forefront of this and make your community more sustainable," he said.
Routt County Commissioner Diane Mitsch Bush thanked Salazar, who is on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, for providing funding for the region, including the Yampa Valley Regional Airport.
Salazar also said he would like to create a high-speed rail line connecting Denver and the outlying ski towns such as Aspen, Vail and Steamboat Springs to facilitate day-trippers.
This idea follows the Passenger Rail Investment & Improvement Act of 2008, which the transportation committee passed through the House earlier this month. That bill supported Amtrak expansion but did not mention Colorado.
Salazar is a member of the Blue Dog Coalition, a 50-member group of conservative Democrats who work together to sway policy decisions.
Salazar is up for re-election this year and faces a challenge from Republican Wayne Wolf, a seven-year Delta County commissioner and chairman of Colorado Counties, Inc.'s, Agriculture, Wildlife and Rural Affairs Committee.
Colorado's Third Con-gressional District includes 29 counties across the Western Slope and southern portions of the state.
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