(The Center Square) – Eastern Washington Congresswoman Cathy McMorris Rodgers picked up the gavel for the first time Wednesday as chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee. She led a roundtable discussion about what needs to change with the nation’s energy policy to lower high fuel and food costs.

“Like all of you, I’m very excited to hit the ground running this morning – we have an opportunity to address what American families are facing,” said McMorris Rodgers to open the first committee meeting of the 118th Congress.

She has served on the committee since 2011 and has held federal office since 2004.

Established in 1795, the committee is the oldest standing legislative committee in the House. The panel is given the broadest jurisdiction of any congressional authorizing committee and is charged with setting policy for energy, technology, trade and health care.

“Energy is the tie that binds everything together,” said McMorris Rodgers of the committee’s importance. “It’s critical to our economy and everything we do.”

Alsaker was the first presenter. His company is located in Spokane Valley, Washington, and for more than 50 years, has operated a chain of truck stops in the Pacific Northwest. Alsaker generates about $53.6 million in annual revenue and employs about 300 people with the current workforce shortage.

“I’ve been around and I’ve been through a lot of the trials and tribulations of the industry, he said.

On top of record inflation and high fuel expenses, Alsaker told the committee the state of Washington had enacted a tax on companies that emit carbon gasses that adds about 30 cents per gallon to the price at the pump.

He drew agreement from other guests that the Democratic focus on climate change was extremely harmful to lower and middle-income families.

“However tough high energy costs are on the middle class, they are even worse on the people trying to get there,” she said.

Among other problems, Jackson said Black Americans had an average household income of between $20,000 and $40,000, dependent upon where they lived. Already pressed by inflation and high fuel costs, she said these families could not afford to purchase an electric vehicle as pushed by the Biden administration and Democratic governors.

“Environmental justice is not justice because it’s creating poverty,” she said. “Climate change policy creates a permanent underclass to be controlled by the government.”

Project 21 was founded in 1992 to research and provide commentary on public policy issues from an African American perspective.

“They want stability and we should not have a system that creates barriers to making that happen,” said Jackson.

Laying out the grim scenario in the agricultural sector under current energy policies was Hickman, whose family potato farm was founded in the mid-1870s in Horntown, Virginia. Green beans and other products are grown there as well.

Hickman said 2022 carried the “most devastating cost impact” he had seen yet. He gave a rundown of escalating costs that included a 186% spike in the price of diesel used to power most farm equipment.

High fossil fuel costs, the war in Ukraine and China limiting resources had led to huge increases in fertilizer prices, doubling and tripling the expense, he said.

Trucking rates had gone up 50% and even the price for plastic bags used to bring potatoes to market went up 30% in 2022.

“This is not sustainable,” summarized Hickman.

Eshelman said it was a false narrative perpetuated by climate activists and the media to blame “Big Oil” for the state of the economy. In reality, he said 91% of the nation’s oil and natural gas wells had been developed by independent producers.

The Internal Revenue Service defines an independent producer as one that does not make more than $5 million in retail sales of oil and gas annually or does not refine more than an average of 75,000 barrels of crude oil in a given year.

Eshelman said the Biden administration had rolled out enough regulatory red tape to make it extremely difficult for even smaller producers to obtain a permit to explore for new fuel sources.

“They are looking at every single thing they can do to stop fossil fuel production,” he said.

His association has represented smaller producers for more than 90 years. Through the stewardship of the industry, Eshelman said America had the cleanest air in two decades.

Not only could America use fossil fuels responsibly and safely, he said it was impossible to meet the nation’s energy needs with renewables alone, as many climate activists were pushing.

At the end of the almost two-hour inaugural meeting, McMorris Rodgers concluded that Biden’s energy policies needed to be revamped and she was counting on the committee to get that work done.


Staff Reporter

RaeLynn Ricarte is the author of two books and an award-winning editor and reporter with more than 25 years in the newsroom. She now covers government in Eastern Washington for The Center Square.