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Motorists skipping doctor visits, get stranded due to high gas prices

BISMARCK -- Gas prices are so high that some members of AAA North Dakota are deciding they can't afford to travel to the doctor. Others are running out of gas on the road.

That was among the testimony Wednesday at a field hearing in Bismarck for the U.S. Senate Budget Committee.

Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., is committee chairman. He took testimony from AAA North Dakota's Gene LaDoucer, North Dakota Ethanol Producers Association President Randy Schneider and the state's chief oil and gas development regulator, Lynn Helms.

LaDoucer said that for the first time this decade, AAA is predicting a decline in holiday travel during the Independence Day holiday, a dip of about 1.3 percent.

"The personal tales are more compelling than the data," he said. "I have heard countless stories from fellow North Dakotans on fixed incomes who are skipping doctors' appointments and other important daily activities because of high gasoline prices. ... And AAA North Dakota has even seen an increase in roadside assistance calls from motorists who have run out of gas while hoping gas prices would fall even a few cents."

Schneider said studies are showing that ethanol is keeping the price of gas down from what it could be, by extending the supplies of motor fuel.

Last month, he said, a Merrill Lynch commodity strategist said ethanol is currently reducing retail gasoline prices by 50 cents a gallon and an Iowa State University study showed ethanol is moderating gasoline prices by 29 cents to 40 cents per gallon

The aggressive development of ethanol plants that is now going on will someday soon displace 77 percent of all imported gasoline brought into the U.S. , Schneider said.

Conrad said his committee will continue to take testimony for three more days.

To send comments to the Senate Budget Committee about fuel costs, it must be in the form of regular postal mail, postmarked within three days of Wednesday's meeting. Send the letters to:

Senate Budget Committee

Bismarck, ND Energy Field Hearing

624 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Attention: Lynne Seymour, Chief Clerk