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In DL visits, Franken, Coleman spar over politics of energy

DETROIT LAKES - Both U.S. Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minnesota) and his challenger, Al Franken, agree that something needs to be done about the current energy crisis.

"The middle class has really been stretched for a number of years, and with the cost of health care, college (tuition), and now food and gas, they may be stretched to the breaking point," Franken said Sunday during a stop at DL's Speak Easy restaurant for a celebration honoring Congressman Collin Peterson's birthday.

After a tour of DL's BTD Manufacturing early Monday morning, Coleman noted that energy is "one of the greatest input costs" for manufacturers -- and it's affecting their ability to compete in the global marketplace.

"The challenge is, we've got to get a handle on that (rising fuel prices) for you to be able to continue to do the things you do," said Coleman.

"You've got a lot of great manufacturing in this state," he continued. "In a time when there is great global competition... how do you keep going?"

But the political rivals have very different ideas about how to improve the situation.

During his brief visit, Coleman outlined his energy proposal. The Energy Resource Development Act, which he calls "comprehensive legislation to address our energy security needs," seeks to increase domestic energy production, expand renewable and alternative energy sources, and emphasize technological solutions.

One of the more controversial aspects of his plan calls for opening up sections of the Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) outside of Florida for oil and gas development.

Franken, who is Coleman's endorsed Democratic challenger, feels this is a "phony" solution.

"Opening up this (OCS) area to leases for drilling wouldn't offset the price of oil until 2030 -- and that's according to the Bush Administration," Franken said. "We can't afford to wait 22 years.

"I'm for offshore drilling -- I've never been against it -- but the oil companies already have 68 million acres of leases they're not drilling on, and almost half of those are offshore," he continued. "These are proven reserves, where the environmental work has already been done.

In addition, Franken feels, "We need to be investing in different kinds of technology that will create jobs and end our dependence on not just foreign oil, but on oil, period."

He would like to see an end to government tax subsidies for oil companies, and a windfall tax on oil industry profits -- "on oil that's already being drilled" -- with a portion of the money being used for a middle class tax cut, "to mitigate what this (energy crisis) is doing to them," and the remainder being invested in energy conservation and research.

"I want to really jump start research and development into all kinds of renewables and energy efficiency," he said. "I'm a Sputnik kid."

In the era when the Soviets launched the Sputnik space program, he explained, the U.S. government was scared into spurring the development of a space program of their own.

"They (the U.S. government) invested in math and science education, research and development --and created technologies that fueled our prosperity for decades to come," he said.

He would like to see the current energy crisis spur a similar evolution in technology.

Coleman is not opposed to that. As the founder and co-chairman of the Senate Biofuels Caucus, he feels the nation's dependence on foreign oil represents a threat to national security.

Part of his proposal includes the creation of a an Energy Independence Trust Fund to be funded with the federal share of additional royalties that would be collected when more of the OCS is opened for development.

This trust fund, which could receive tens of billions of dollars from new royalties, would go to fully fund all renewable energy, energy efficiency, research and development and technology deployment programs from the Energy Policy Act of 2005 and the Energy Independence Security Act of 2007.

Additionally, the fund would provide resources for a new ethanol pipeline loan guarantee program and fund new nuclear energy production incentives.

Franken feels that a more immediate solution would be a crackdown on energy futures trading, which is currently unregulated.

"What I'd like to do is (for the Federal Trade Commission and the U.S. Justice Department) to look into speculation in the futures markets and commodity markets... and see if there's been any manipulation," he said. One area where he would specifically like for them to investigate is the possibility that oil companies might have intentionally restricted production in an attempt to manipulate the market.

Coleman agreed that speculators had contributed to the current situation, noting in his remarks that his office had done a study when the price of oil was still $70 per barrel. The study found that about $20 of that $70-per-barrel price, or 30 percent, was attributable to speculation.

But he feels that by opening up future drilling opportunities in the U.S. (like the OCS) and developing nuclear and other alternative energy sources, "We'll show the world we're serious about not being held hostage anymore.

"You can't have it both ways," Coleman said, addressing critics of his plan. If speculators in the futures market are driving up costs, one of the ways to stop them would be to show that the U.S. is on its way to becoming energy self-sufficient -- even if it won't happen in this decade.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454