Gas prices soared. People grumbled. Candidates listened.
That was earlier in the summer, when gas prices soared more than $3 per gallon. While gas prices had slipped below of $2.50 per gallon for regular unleaded in the Illinois Quad-Cities Sunday, voters continue to grumble and candidates continue to talk about energy and fuel consumption.
"The price at the pump has come back (down) but it is still a concern for me and the people of northwest Illinois," Republican Steve Haring, a candidate for state representative in the 71st District, said. "What are the fuel costs this winter going to be?"
Concerns about gas prices comes from all corners: families, social service organizations, farmers mad about diesel prices, and businesses, Democrat Phil Hare, candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, said.
During the summer, Republican gubernatorial candidate Judy Baar Topinka called on incumbent Democratic Gov. Rod Blagojevich to suspend Illinois' gas tax, a request he didn't heed.
Prices may be easier on the pocketbook than they were, but no one -- voter or candidate -- should forget about energy independence, Andrea Zinga, Republican candidate for the 17th Congressional District seat, said.
People were worried about gas prices in the late 1970s during the OPEC oil embargo but then when prices dropped, they let the issue drop, too. That can't happen now, she said.
"Energy independence is not only economically important to the 17th District, but also to the national security," Ms. Zinga said. "People want to be safe."
Democrat Mike Boland, running for re-election as state representative in the 71st District, agrees.
"We have to keep this pressure on and keep moving toward energy independence," he said.
Ms. Zinga said the 17th District can be a national leader in energy independence, with a number of ethanol plants across the district in the various stage of planning and coal deposits in the southern part of the district. She also favors the 2005 federal energy bill, which called for the increased use of ethanol.
Coal deposits in Fulton and Macoupin counties aren't being tapped, Mr. Hare said. Instead, companies are bringing coal into the state to run power plants.
"We need to get away from being so oil dependent," Mr. Hare said. "We aren't going to do this until we get a commitment from the Congress and the president to wean ourselves off oil."
Nationally, oil companies have to be responsible for explaining record-high profits while consumers face record-high gas prices, Mr. Hare said. Seven weeks from the general election, gas prices are dropping, he noted.
"I think Congress has done a miserable job of holding these people responsible," Mr. Hare said. "We have to have responsible corporations that are willing to stand up and answer the tough questions."
Ms. Zinga disagrees, saying oil executives testifying in Congress isn't part of the solution to the nation's energy woes.
"I don't think hauling the oil executives in front of Congress is the answer," she said. "It is reinvestment."
Energy conservation efforts have already started in the General Assembly, Mr. Boland said. He says he has supported legislation requiring state vehicles be either flex-fuel compatible or hybrid, and diesel vehicles be bio-diesel compatible. He also voted for a resolution to be sent to Congress asking that the sales tax credit for hybrids be extended to flex-fuel vehicles.
"I think the demand for these is shown by GM and Ford jumping ahead of the Japanese on these flex-fuel vehicles," Mr. Boland said.
Though he supported a previous suspension of the gasoline sales tax, and said he would support another one, he doesn't see it as a long-term answer, only short-term savings for consumers. He does support legislation that suspends the sales tax for flex-fuel vehicles.
The number of planned ethanol plants is also heartening, Mr. Boland said.
"I think it will create a lot of jobs, not just construction jobs, but permanent jobs," he said, "and that will help our small towns."
More can be done, Mr. Haring said. The state needs to push for more research and development and the state government needs to partner with corporations, offering tax credits for new technology, assistance with promotion and marketing of new products, and other incentives.
"This is an important issue that we need to develop policies and partnerships that should be multi-faceted," Mr. Haring said. "It is high time the state of Illinois steps up and becomes a leader and not a follower."
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