Mr. President, last month, Americans emptied their wallets at the pump, paying record prices that reached $3.22 a gallon according to the Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration. This price represented a 28 percent increase over a period of just 2 months, and a 52 percent increase since the end of January.

Rising prices underscore the increased attention that small business owners are paying to this issue. According to a survey conducted by the National Small Business Association (NSBA), 62 percent of small businesses use vehicles for delivery or customer transportation, and a majority of those who use vehicles travel more than 50 miles a day.

According to the Energy Information Administration’s June 12th update to the Short Term Energy Outlook, gas prices are expected to average $3.05 through the 2007 summer months, an increase of 21-cents over last summer’s average price. Meanwhile, small businesses that operate close to the margin and that rely on vehicles every day to remain competitive are struggling to keep up.

These are the same businesses coping with considerable increases in the cost of providing their employees health care--the same burgeoning entrepreneurs that we count on to create roughly two-thirds of the new jobs in this country. These businesses can no longer be expected to shoulder a burden created by a government that has been reluctant to shift its priorities from serving the same old special interests.

The good news is that right now, the Senate is debating legislation that would put the country on a clear path towards energy independence. In a single month, we could rewrite the shameful story of procrastination, manipulation and—most of all—failed leadership that has defined our energy policy for thirty years.

Democrats in the Senate are working to develop a comprehensive energy policy that will make America safer and will stabilize and lower fuel costs for small businesses and all Americans. But in order to effectively address energy security, the final legislation must include three components: 1) a major increase in the efficiency of all sources and uses of energy, from pickup trucks to fluorescent light bulbs; 2) dramatic incentives for all renewable energy sources, including the requirement that at least 20% of our energy come from renewable sources like wind and solar by 2020; and 3) a comprehensive plan to get clean coal technologies and carbon sequestration off the drawing board and under construction.

These are the first steps Congress must take to address the long term security and stability of this country’s fuel supply. But there are other steps we can take in the short term to make sure our small businesses are protected against dramatic interruptions in fuel.

Today, I’m introducing legislation that creates an emergency fuel assistance program for small businesses in the event of a severe fuel interruption. Under this program, small businesses and farms that rely on fuel as a key operating cost would be eligible to receive grants to help them stay afloat during periods of extraordinarily high gas prices. This program could go a long way toward helping businesses operating close to the margin deal with costs that are beyond their control.

Specifically, the Small Business Emergency Fuel Assistance Act of 2007 would create a program within the Economic Development Agency at the Department of Commerce to assist small businesses through state grants during declarations of fuel emergency. The program is triggered by a Presidential declaration of fuel emergency, and would authorize the Secretary of Commerce to give grants to states to provide assistance to fuel dependent small businesses. Eligibility for these grants is restricted to businesses with fewer than 50 employees or less than $5 million in annual gross receipts. Furthermore, to ensure that these businesses are also contributing to America’s energy conservation efforts, Eligibility would be contingent upon a business having a plan to become more energy efficient. The program would be authorized at $100 million per year, for five years.

For too long, we’ve asked Americans to put up with an energy supply that is unstable and flat out dangerous. The path to energy security—a path that’s being cut in the Senate as we speak—will lead to stability and lower prices at the pump. In the meantime, this is a commonsense policy to aid our small business and small farm owners in the short term, so that they can continue to do what they do best—grow the American economy.

I ask unanimous consent that my statement be printed in the congressional record.