Americans are struggling to balance budgets due to high gasoline and diesel prices. We all feel the pain at the pump, but now the next shoe is ready to drop. This winter, Americans will feel sticker shock from home heating bills due to predicted upcoming price jumps for natural gas.

Energy companies like AmerenUE are trying to make their customers aware of the problem now, before this winter's cold weather sets in, and with good reason. Energy companies realize when we get our higher energy bills this winter, our tendency will be to blame the energy providers.

In a letter to its customers, AmerenUE states the use of natural gas to generate electricity is one of the causes of the much higher costs we face this winter. The fact that our federal government forces utility companies to generate electricity with natural gas instead of using the clean coal technology we have is absurd - the U.S. is the Saudi Arabia of coal.

Such inappropriate regulatory policy results in much higher prices for Americans who heat their homes with natural gas and for farmers reliant upon nitrogen fertilizer which is made from natural gas. Turning to clean coal technology to generate electricity would dramatically reduce the price of natural gas to heat our homes and to make the nitrogen fertilizer America needs to produce our food supply

Let's place the blame where it belongs-in the houses of Congress. The United States has tremendous reserves of natural gas, and yet some of our elected representatives in Washington, D.C., will not allow us to tap into these vast reserves. We also have vast deposits of oil in Alaska, the continental U.S. and offshore; again the story is the same-we are not allowed to recover this oil.

The economic strain already inflicted on citizens of this country is unbelievable, and it will not improve until Congress passes real energy legislation allowing us to tap into our abundant natural gas and oil reserves. What we have seen from Congress so far are seemingly token attempts to appease.

Yes, we are seeing some legislative attempts to create an energy policy now that Congress nears the end of the session and just before elections, but if we don't get strong energy policy through Congress right now, I question if such legislation will stand a chance after the November elections.

Our Missouri Farm Bureau members have seen this issue so clearly for so long and addressed it in our policy; most members of our Missouri congressional delegation also want to address the issue; why in the world are many elected representatives in Washington, D.C., unable to see what's going on? Can they really not see the reality of the problem, or are they just playing politics?

It is one thing to play politics, but when our elected representatives play politics with this country's national security and with people's lives, it is both inexcusable and unacceptable. I think it is one of the greatest travesties I've seen in my lifetime, and it is putting this country in a very precarious situation.

Charles Kruse, a fourth-generation family farmer from Dexter, Mo., serves as president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, the state's largest farm organization.