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Friday, May 09, 2008

Q&A with Rep. Paul Ryan


By Dan Plutchak, editor

For Congressman Paul Ryan, farm policy, economic policy and energy policy are all one-in-the same.

He has ideas on how to make them all work together, but he'll also be the first to tell you congress is a frustrating place to get anything done these days.

The First District congressman visited with local weekly newspaper editors a week ago to provide his perspective on how national issues are affecting folks here in Walworth County.

Tops among them is the rapidly rising cost of gasoline.

Ryan has focused on increasing the supply of oil as a way to get a handle on the rising cost of gasoline.

For years now, Ryan has pointed out the bottleneck that throws the traditional laws of supply and demand out the window. Because the United States has reached its oil refining capacity, increasing crude oil production can't increase the supply of gasoline to the pumps.

And because they're already happily profitable, oil companies have no economic incentive to build new oil refineries.

Unless Congress can find a way to make investing in new refineries financially attractive, the only option consumers have to make the laws of supply and demand work for them is to reduce demand.

It's no coincidence that his visit comes in the early stages of his campaign for re-election in November, and he staked out the positions he'll rely on over the next eight months.

Here's a sampling of what Ryan had to say:

More drilling

Ryan says one way to reduce reliance on foreign oil is to increase domestic drilling.

"We can do this without harming the environment," Ryan says. A proposal to drill in Alaska would encompass 2,000 acres out of 20 million, Ryan says, and it would reduce our dependency on foreign oil by 20 percent.

Unfortunately, Ryan says there's no interest from congressional leaders in pursuing the plan.

More refining capacity

Ryan sees the need for more refinery capacity. The last refinery was built in 1976 and refineries have been running at near capacity for years.

Ryan has offered several proposals to make it easier to build new refineries, but there's no economic incentive for oil companies to invest in more processing capacity.

Streamline gasoline blends

Ryan has long pushed for a reduction in the number of specialty blends of gasoline as a way of increasing refining capacity.

Because of environmental legislation, different parts of the county use slightly different blends of gasoline.

For example, the blend that consumers buy in Walworth County is different from what they sell in Milwaukee County.

However, Ryan says his legislation has languished under opposition from the oil industry.

Stop cutting interest rates

Ryan has been nearly alone in his opposition to rate cuts by the Federal Reserve Bank. "The Fed is stoking high prices," he says, as they continue to cut rates to fight the sluggish economy.

Interest rates should be adjusted to combat inflation, Ryan says. But the recent cuts have only fueled increases in consumer prices.

Food into fuel

Ryan's voice is among a growing chorus of those who say using food for fuel has led to disastrous unintended consequences.

Instead, he supports alternative biofuels like cornstalks and switchgrass. However, the tax subsidy for wind, solar and biomass fuels has expired and was not renewed in the recent energy bill.

Ryan is at a loss to explain why congressional leadership won't move to renew the incentives.

So can First District residents expect to see movement on any of these issues soon? Probably not.

With the general election campaign about to begin in earnest this summer, these will be the issues the candidates will spend a great deal of time debating.

Doing something about them will have to wait until after November.

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