I recently was invited to the 36th Annual Legislative Congressional Black Caucus entitled "Changing Course, Confronting Crises, Continuing the Legacy." Clint Ferris of Generation Now and myself were selected as emerging leaders from our districts by the delegate to Congress. I would like to describe to you why this conference by the CBC was so important for the Virgin Islands and why the same issues that face us here are the same and what we can do about it.
Our first inspirational conference was in a town hall meeting, titled "Confronting Crises: Achieving Energy Independence." It was moderated by former BET News anchor Ed Gordon and featured former Secretary of Energy Hazel O'Leary, president of Fisk University; former Congressman Joe Kennedy, chairman and president of Citizens Energy Corporation; Jerome Ringo, president of the Apollo Alliance and chairman of the board of the National Wildlife Federation; and representatives from Blacks in Energy. Topics included how the high prices of oil had greatly impacted the family when choosing between medicine and food to paying their electric bill.
"Energy costs are out of control. We need to explore existing options and alternative energy sources. We must generate strategies that make buying gas, heating and cooling homes, and meeting other basic energy needs affordable for America's families" said Representative Carolyn Cheeks Kilpatrick, (D-MI) co-chair for the conference. Ringo stressed the need for alternative energy, while Kennedy pleaded with the audience to demand more from the energy companies in the form of energy rebate programs to expecting more from your Public Service Commission. They both were incredible speakers. They all had the same message at this conference: vote, get involved and speak out about the issues that face your community. If you don't, someone else will.
This energy forum was important to the V.I. because, while we have the second- largest oil refinery in the Western Hemisphere on St.Croix, the current price of gas is not reflected at the pump as quickly as it should be at the retail level in this district. Global oil prices are in a decline and will continue to be in the near term. Factors such as slowing economic growth and receding fear about this year's Atlantic hurricane season are also influencing selling that has taken oil down by more than 20 percent since the middle of July. Yet time and time again, the rack rates posted by Hovensa increases and then are instantly charged to consumers at the pump. But this does not happen as quickly in reverse. WAPA plans to give its customers a price of reduction of some seven percent in November from the oil market changes reflected from September. WAPA bond ratings are in serious jeopardy if it cannot pay its debts to Hovensa. But WAPA expects to adjust its rates downwards. In the past two months the price of stateside regular gas has been about $2.50 a gallon, down 12.1 cents from mid-September. Hovensa recently wrote to the Licensing and Consumer Affairs Commissioner and stated that its price of regular gasoline went down by 50.5 cents. The price of premium fell by 63 cents and the cost of diesel dropped by 14 cents. When the price of gas is taxed locally by seven cents here and it is it taxed by over in average 45 cents per gallon combined state, local and federal taxes (Source: American Petroleum Institute, Tax Foundation. Sept.2005), it makes you wonder how the three major retail operators such as Texaco, Esso and Domino gas can justify their price margins? In November 2005 legislation was passed that a 50 percent reduction from 14 to seven cents in the local gas tax would be granted and passed on to the consumer. We know the monthly rates according to Hovensa. We can estimate the cost of delivery, shipping and storage by the big three. I 'm waiting to see the next survey results conducted by the DLCA on the big three. What we do not know is the justification for prices at the pump to the consumer. I call this price gouging. There is no other word for it in my opinion. While I favor the free market system, I wonder if there is collision between these operators? Commissioner Rutnik is currently using the courts to get this information from the operators and hopefully we will know how we are being charged and by how much. The V.I. Legislature also has moved legislation to the governor to have greater control of this commodity. In the past there was talk of creating gasoline holding storage tanks in our district. Talk of negotiating with Venezuela and going back to negotiating another long-term contract with Hovensa. All of these are good things but by the time this editorial is made public, will we see a 50-cent reduction in price? Don't hold your breath because these companies literally have us over a barrel.
In the meantime, what can we do? We can speak out. We must use alternate forms of energy: solar, wind, ocean thermal energy conversion, waste to energy technology and conservation. We must visit the energy office for any and all available energy rebate programs, press our leaders to run efficient and fast forms of mass transportation, and demand that we see a comprehensive master plan to our transportation system needs. I include water taxis to the mix. Buy fuel-efficient vehicles and not gas-guzzlers. Every time you fill up at a gas station think about how much money you just saved by not purchasing an SUV. Consider the impact of your carbon footprint that you are leaving behind for the next generation. You can reduce your impact! What a gift you can give to your children. By the time we run out of fossil fuels, we will have done more damage to our environment, which can never be replaced. So the choice is yours, folks; get involved and press for change or sit back and let the oil companies and politicians decide your future. The choice is yours.
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