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|Thursday, September 1, 2020||
Griffo Unveils Energy Action Agenda,
Oneida County Executive Joseph A. Griffo today released a series of long-and short-range action items to address soaring gasoline prices, increased home heating costs and promote greater conservation and reliance upon alternative energy sources.
“The cornerstones of my Energy Action Agenda are relief from high prices, actions to decrease reliance on fossil fuels, conservation of resources and enforcement to ensure that people who pump and run are caught and punished,” he said.
Griffo said that he will introduce legislation calling for Oneida County to suspend its sales tax on gasoline for five weeks during the year as a way to help reduce gasoline costs at peak travel times, and said he will call upon New York State to do the same.
“We all see the cycle year after year. When a big travel holiday approaches, gasoline goes up. The consumer loses out. I want to change that by implementing up to five weeks per year when we suspend the county sales tax on retail sales of gasoline, and I ask that our state Legislature consider doing the same with its sales tax,” Griffo said, noting that he would target weeks around Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Labor Day. “Peak driving times are not only important to the people of Oneida County as they connect with families, they are also important times for our tourism industry. Sales-tax free weeks on clothing have become an accepted part of our system. Oneida County participates in every possible one. I believe we should use the same approach to give drivers a break on gasoline.”
Griffo also voiced support for a proposal by State Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno that would, in effect, cap state sales taxes on gasoline. “Sen. Bruno has offered a concept that would limit the state sales tax amount. I support that and I encourage the state Legislature to give the proposal serious consideration.”
Griffo’s Energy Action Agenda also calls for the following short-term actions:
Implementation of tougher measures to stop “pump-and-run” drivers. Griffo said he will propose a local Oneida County law to make the penalties stiffer for drivers who pump and run. The local law will require mandatory fines and sentencing for drivers found guilty. Griffo said he will also call upon the state to suspend the license of “pump-and-run” drivers. “When drivers pump and run, they are not beating the system, they are cheating our local store owners and increasing their cost of doing business, giving the paying customers one more cost to bear,” said Griffo, who announced the creation of a Pump Patrol Hot Line for store owners and residents to anonymously report ‘pump-and-run’ incidents. The number to call is 798-5400 Also, emails can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
Oneida County District Attorney Michael Arcuri said, “The District Attorney’s Office will prosecute pump-and-run cases to the fullest possible extent. I support this new law, and even before it is passed, my office will seek the toughest possible penalties for people who use high prices as a pretext for what is nothing more than theft.”
Oneida County Sheriff Dan Middaugh said, “Road patrol deputies will be given lists of license numbers phoned to the county’s Pump Patrol Hot Line so that we can help store owners recover money that is owed them and act as a deterrent to theft. A crisis is not an excuse to steal.”
More Home Heating Aid: Griffo called for emergency legislation in Washington to increase the amount of money available for the Home Energy Assistance Program, which is designed to help low-income residents receive aid for their heating costs, and also to increase the income eligibility level. “All of the income guidelines that the federal government has used are obsolete in an economy where gasoline prices are rising higher and higher,” Griffo said. “The need this winter is going to be beyond anything we have ever seen, and without increased aid to help more people, I am afraid that in Oneida County, and the entire Northeast, we will see working families who cannot meet their fuel payments and their gasoline bills. When Congress returns to its session next month, I call upon them to take action before the crisis hits.”
Addition of a “Pump Patrol” feature to Oneida County’s Web site, www.ocgov.net. “We want to make sure drivers know average prices and where there might be bargains,” Griffo said. “We will link to any Web site that is maintained in a local area that watches pump prices, so that customers can have a chance to shop around without burning even more gasoline looking for the best deal they can find. We welcome the opportunity to work with local media and organizations to help make sure consumers get the word.” Residents can report prices to email@example.com or 798-5400.
Noting that gasoline and fuel oil prices are an issue that transcends short-term actions, Griffo also said he is seeking longer-term actions. “High prices and tight supplies are not just one-time events. They are symptoms of our need to better manage existing fuel supplies, increase energy alternatives and reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Griffo said.
Creation of a statewide fuel reserve that can be used to help local governments deal with rising fuel costs. “Although governments do not pay at the pump, rising costs are impacting governments as well as consumers. When we consider that AAA says gas prices nationally have risen 38 percent in the past year, we know that will create budgeting hardships for town, village, city and county governments that need fuel for law enforcement patrols and other emergency vehicles,” he said.
Increased Conservation. “The best way to reduce gasoline costs is to use less gasoline, and we need to help educate drivers so they can reduce their gasoline consumption,” Griffo said. “The basic steps are to operate a well-maintained vehicle, avoid excessive idling and warming up a vehicle that wastes gas, and plan ahead when making shopping trips.”
Long-term transportation planning to increase the potential of mass transit and car-pooling. “This spring, I worked with the Workforce Investment Board at their transportation summit to begin exploring new options. I want to continue that work with the WIB and with Centro to see if and how we can make mass transit more appealing to customers. We will work with Centro to explore any alternatives, from increased park-and-ride spots, to new routes – if there is a demand from our employers and workforce.”
More consistent standards for gasoline additives. “New York has banned the additive MBTE to reduce water pollution; other states allow the additive. All of these different rules in different states are increasing our refining costs. Adopting a national standard for what is in gasoline will increase supply flexibility when there are short-term interruptions in supplies from events such as Hurricane Katrina,” Griffo said.
Creation of a fuel efficiency standard for county vehicles, coupled with increased management restrictions to limit travel. “The road patrol has to be out there; the outreach workers need to see our seniors,” Griffo said. “But at current gas prices, we need to even further cut back travel. Out-of-county travel has been cut, now we are cutting in-county travel. When we have to have county vehicles – and I want as few as possible – we need to make sure we have the most fuel-efficient fleet possible. Hybrids may not be ready to serve as road patrol vehicles, the major source of county vehicles, but I will explore using them for all other purposes. ” Griffo said that Oneida County will also explore the use of natural gas vehicles.
Development of an alternative fuel strategy for county-owned buildings. “Clearly the Oneida County Office Building was designed to a time when energy was cheap,” Griffo said. “With the prices we are facing -- and the urgent need for all of us to decrease fossil fuel consumption wherever possible – we need to see if there are alternatives such as solar power that might make sense in the current energy price environment. I think we need to at least explore whether the current Oneida County Airport in Whitestown has potential for generating wind energy. Yes, we need to turn out the lights, adjust the thermostats and mow the lawn a little less often, but I want to see Oneida County Government become a leader in cutting fuel costs through alternative energy sources.” Griffo noted that he recently requested passage of a tax credit for homeowners who install solar energy systems. “If we’re telling homeowners it makes sense,” he said, “it makes sense for us as well.”
Anti-price gouging actions. Griffo also called for action to address the massive, sudden increases in gasoline prices that have been clobbering Oneida County and the nation. “I acknowledge that supply and demand are major forces, but the structure of the oil industry, with only a few major refiners, contributes to prices at the pump being higher than they should be. Every time there is a crisis, gas prices jump. If under the law this is not price gouging, it is certainly anti-consumer behavior that needs to be addressed by the only people in the country who can do so – the federal government. Although President Bush acted properly to tap the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, we need to be ready for major action to address this crisis. Gas prices are out of control, and we need to get them under control – whether through actions to limit oil futures trading on the commodities markets or, if worse comes to worse, price regulation by the Federal Trade Commission.”
Arcuri said that although the complex nature of the oil industry has made price gouging complaints difficult to prove within existing laws, his office is ready and willing to investigate complaints. “America is in an energy emergency. In this emergency, there is no room for anyone to take advantage of drivers who need gasoline to get to work,” he said.
Griffo and Arcuri said drivers who believe an individual retailer has been pricing gasoline unfairly can contact the New York State Consumer Protection Board’s Gas Price Gouging Hotline at (800) 214-4372.