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Energy Prices a Key Issue in Race Between Kilroy, Stivers

High gasoline prices have become a major theme in the race for Ohio's 15th Congressional district. Franklin County Commissioner Mary Jo Kilroy (D), and State Senator Steve Stivers (R), have both developed their own energy plans.

Steve Stivers, a Republican, and Mary Jo Kilroy, a Democrat have each authored multi-point energy plans. Stivers presented his at a Columbus gas station in early June.

"We've all seen with the high cost of energy what it's meant for jobs, what it's meant for small business, and what it's meant for families," Stivers says.

Mary Jo Kilroy followed with a detailed plan at Ohio State University's Center for Automotive Research a month later.

"We have an energy crisis going on," Kilroy says. "You feel it, I feel it, every time we fill up our cars at the pump."Miami University Economist James Brock reviewed both plans and says they each make interesting suggestions. For example, Stivers proposes increasing the average miles per gallon from existing fuels.

"I'm calling on fleet averages for cars to be raised to 40 miles per gallon and for trucks, 35 miles per gallon, by 2015 and that's six years from 2009," Stivers says.

Kilroy, on the other hand, wants every American car to be powered by an alternative fuel in 12 years.

"I call on us to accept this challenge: to set a goal of producing an entirely alternative fueled fleet of cars built in America by 2020," Kilroy says.

Economist James Brock likes both ideas.

"I think they best make sense taken together," Brock says. "I think the miles per gallon, the fuel, the CAF standards, is more of a nearer term kind of an objective to try to push the auto companies to increase that - I think they're getting a huge push already from the marketplace to do that. I think that the alternative fuels is important, longer term objective for the country that we really do seriously have to wean ourselves off of our dependence on oil - foreign oil - and all of the complications and headaches that go with that."

But Stivers' and Kilroy's plans differ in a number of ways. Stivers calls for increasing the domestic supply of oil, presumably through drilling. Kilroy says the U-S cannot drill itself out of the problem. She says oil companies hold leases on 68 million acres of land but are doing nothing with them. Economist James Brock agrees.

"Exxon's been dragging its heels for 20 years on a pretty substantial area up in Alaska. And so one would think that they are not in any big rush to increase the supply which would drive down the price and they seem to like it when the price goes up rather than down."

Kilroy also criticizes the petroleum industry for not building new refineries. But Brock contends that point is misleading.

"When you look at the nation's refining capacity to turn oil into gasoline that capacity has actually increased substantially over the last 20 years," Brock says. "So they haven't built any new refineries but they've expanded the ones that they have."

Brock likes Stivers' plan to invest $100 billion dollars over ten years in researching what Stivers calls advanced energy. And he says Stivers call for a standardized gasoline blend makes sense.

"What we've had is almost state-by-state and regions within state sort of custom blended boutique gasolines to fit each neighborhood in the whole country; that's a real problem, Brock says. "When you have this balkanized market of all these different designer fuels it makes the industry much more risky and much more unpredictable."

While Brock agrees with much of Stivers' energy plan, one point concerns him.

"The truly horrifying suggestion comes from the Stivers plan which is to create a domestic Petroleum Administration for Security which would go a long way in taking over the nation's oil business and I think that is exactly what we do not need. We've already got one Department of Energy; I don't know that a second one would do anything good," says Brock.

And when it comes to preparing for the country's energy future, Brock favors Kilroy's addressing the domestic energy crisis sooner rather than later.

"Sooner or later we're going to run into a situation where we need to move on and I think it makes more sense to start to adjust and take steps that way now rather than hope to find an easy fix and just kick the problem a couple of years down the road," Brock says.