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Senator Gumm’s “Senate Minute” Column for Week of September 5-11, 2008

Sen. Jay Paul Gumm Sen. Jay Paul Gumm

Hello again, everybody! Few have been as critical as I have of decisions made by House Speaker Chris Benge. He got that criticism the old-fashioned way: he earned it.

His decision to deny even a vote to the autism insurance bill will go down as one of the most ill-advised and unfortunate decisions ever made by any Speaker of the House. That decision hurt families struggling to care for autistic children.

These Oklahoma families deserved better, and I will continue my fight for them. Despite our profound disagreement on the autism issue, it appears the Speaker and I will agree on another issue.

The Speaker has announced part of his energy plan for Oklahoma. Since I serve as the Democratic chair of the Senate’s Energy and Environment Committee, I read with interest what he had to say. His proposal mirrors many of the positions I have held in relation to Oklahoma’s energy future.

His plan is to use Oklahoma’s incredible natural gas reserves to help reduce our dependence on foreign oil by making compressed natural gas (CNG) vehicles more affordable for more Oklahomans. The plan is a positive step that I intend to support.

Just last session, I carried the bill that extended the tax credit available to Oklahomans who purchase “qualified clean-burning motor fuel property.” That includes the equipment necessary to fuel a CNG vehicle. This kind of policy is good for three reasons.

First, it uses a fuel that is abundant right here in Oklahoma; we would not have to buy as much oil from countries who want to destroy America. Second, CNG fuel is cheaper that oil-derived gasoline. Finally, CNG is a much cleaner burning fuel than gasoline, emitting far less pollutants into the atmosphere.

The biggest barrier is the scarcity of CNG fueling stations. Some might claim the market will drive this; create the demand, some might say, and the fueling stations will follow. That may be true, but we have the ability to accelerate that by using the state’s ability to provide incentives.

Last year, the Senate Energy Committee conducted a study on Oklahoma’s energy reserves. We learned the new technology used in gas exploration shows we have more known natural gas reserves under our feet today than at any time in history.

It makes sense to use those reserves to help break our dependence on foreign oil. That has been a goal I have worked toward as Energy Committee chair; it is a goal the Speaker apparently shares.

Make no mistake; I will continue taking the Speaker to task for his opposition to helping children with autism. Still, our work at the Capitol must be about policy, not politics.

On the issue of Oklahoma’s energy future, we will work together. We in the Legislature will never agree on every issue, but we can find some common ground.

Thanks again for reading the “Senate Minute,” have a great week, and may God bless you all.

Editor’s Note: Senator Jay Paul Gumm is serving his second term in the Oklahoma Senate; he was first elected in 2002. A Democrat from Durant, the lawmaker is co-chair of the Senate’s Energy & Environment Committee. Previously, he served a term as chair of the Senate Finance Committee. In 2008, he wrote “Nick’s Law,” a bill that would have required health insurance policies to cover the diagnosis and treatment of autism in children.

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Sen. Gumm's Office: (405) 521-5586