MONTPELIER U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said last week that outrageously high oil and gas prices that Vermonters and Americans are paying constitute a national emergency that requires a bold response from the White House and Congress. Sanders said millions of workers are seeing a steep decline in their standard of living because of high gasoline pump prices that surpassed $3.50 a gallon nationwide. Many older Americans, he added, will not be able to heat their homes next winter unless heating fuel prices are lowered. He also noted that energy costs impact the entire economy, including rising food prices. While energy prices are soaring, Sanders said, big oil companies are reporting record profits and speculators at hedge funds and financial institutions are making billions investing in energy futures. Sanders is working with other senators on both long-term and short-term solutions to the energy crisis which include: Imposing a windfall profits tax on the oil and gas industry. Last year, Exxon-Mobil made $40 billion in profits, more than any company in history. Since President Bush has been in office, the five largest U.S. oil companies have made more than $500 billion in profits. Oil companies should be allowed to make a reasonable profit, but anything above that should be significantly taxed. This will take away the incentive of big oil companies to rip-off Americans at the gas pump. It is time that Congress and the President said No to the $213 million in campaign contributions that the oil industry has given to them since 1990 and Yes to consumers by taking this important step. Closing the Enron Loophole. Energy trading exchanges that were exploited by Enron and continue to be abused by other energy traders who are manipulating the price of oil should be re-regulated. Today hedge funds and speculators are making billions in an unregulated climate by bidding up the price of oil. Some experts believe that speculation is increasing the price of oil by 20 percent to 30 percent. Stopping the flow of oil into the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, and immediately releasing oil from this federal stockpile to reduce gas prices. This has worked in the past. When President Clinton released oil from this reserve in 2000, the price of gasoline immediately fell by 14 cents a gallon. When the first President Bush released oil from the reserve in 1991, the price of crude oil dropped by $10 a barrel. The time has come to do this again. Break up OPEC. OPEC is an illegal price-fixing cartel that is clearly in violation of international free trade rules. The president must file a complaint with the World Trade Organization and demand the dismantling of OPEC. The ending of collusion with regard to oil production will result in increased production and lower oil prices. Authorize the president to impose price caps to stabilize prices in the event of market manipulation. Today, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has the authority to impose temporary price caps on electricity. When it used this authority to deal with the California energy crisis created by Enron, electricity prices fell dramatically. The president should have similar authority over gas prices.