State seeks solution to rising fuel costs

? Skyrocketing fuel prices have prompted lawmakers to form a special committee to form a long-term state energy policy, officials said Thursday.

“The energy problem is not going to go away,” said House Speaker Doug Mays, R-Topeka. “It’s something we have to take a look at long term.”

The House-Senate committee will meet for five days before the 2006 legislative session, which starts in January, and issue a report by Feb. 1.

Mays said state Rep. Tom Sloan, R-Lawrence, one of the Legislature’s experts on energy issues, will chair the committee.

“He’s exhaustive,” Mays said of Sloan. “He really takes issues apart.”

House Democratic Leader Dennis McKinney of Greensburg said he hoped the committee would look at ways to increase oil refining capacity in Kansas, study why ethanol-blended gasoline is about the same price as regular gasoline, and whether any pressure is needed to reverse “bad business practices.”

In its review, the committee also will study gasoline and diesel prices, biodiesel production, home heating fuels, alternative fuels, weatherization, and access to wholesale markets by independent oil and gas producers.

Oil prices and oil profits have hit record levels in recent weeks after hurricanes Katrina and Rita disrupted refining capacity in the Gulf Coast region.

Natural gas prices have more than doubled in the past year and record home heating costs are expected throughout the winter.