Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Gas crisis? Blame Congress

With finger-pointing and fault-finding for the soaring costs of gasoline and diesel fuel at a fever pitch in Washington, politicians hoping to find villains on Wall Street are looking in the wrong place.

They should look in the halls of Congress.

Petroleum analysts and political historians these days are recapping a series of strategic blunders in government energy policy that foretold today's record high fuel prices, which are creating major changes in the lifestyle of Americans who believed cheap gas was endless.

Had Congress not buckled to the pressures of Detroit automakers in 1990 and instead enacted proposed fuel efficiency standards and higher fuel taxes, U.S.-made cars would be averaging 40 miles per gallon rather than the current 24.5 miles per gallon. The nation would need 3 million fewer barrels of oil per day. In Europe, vehicle fuel efficiency now is at 44 mpg.

Now a too-little-too-late panic has set in. Drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? That would reduce $140 per barrel oil by $1.44 in 19 years. Off shore drilling? Price reductions would take place 22 years from now. Detroit's stubborn arrogance is hitting home.

Americans can't continue this drunken petroleum binge. With only 4 percent of the world population, Americans gulp down more than 20 percent of global consumption.

Vice President Dick Cheney once cynically laughed off conservation as a "personal virtue," a virtue about to become national policy, with or without Washington. No one's laughing now.

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