Hooray for gas pains
By Michael M. Bates
Paying more at the pump has its benefits. For the first time in a long time, Americans are beginning to pay attention. And, by Jove, I think we've got it! Or at least some of us do.
We're realizing that leaving most of our energy needs in the hands of those who wish us ill isn't prudent. Last month's Gallup poll found that by a healthy 57 to 41 percent margin, Americans favor drilling in U.S. coastal and wilderness areas that are currently off limits.
That's a noteworthy turnaround from the results of a CBS News/New York Times poll conducted only last year. It asked if participants approved of drilling in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Then, 57 percent of respondents disapproved while 39 percent supported the idea.
Forking over more than $4.00 a gallon for gas has evidently been educational.
It was in 1995 that President Clinton vetoed ANWR development as part of a budget bill. Out of 19 million acres, only about 2,000 would have been used for drilling facilities. As a former Alaska governor noted, ANWR is "a barren, marshy wilderness . . . infested with uncountable mosquitoes and locked in temperatures of 60 and 70 degrees below zero for up to nine months of the year."
Still, it was all just too much for the tree-hugging set. "We must protect the Earth that God gave us," Hillary's husband dramatically declared in his veto message. That Bill, always doing God's work, isn't he?
Clinton was abetted in his determination to thwart a modest step toward energy independence by some in the mainstream media. Editorialized the Wisconsin State Journal: "America doesn't need the oil – yet . . . . There is no shortage of petroleum in the United States, and U.S. citizens are still paying just a fraction of what we ought to be paying for gasoline and related products."
Those wise folks must be doing cartwheels of joy these days. Finally, at long last, Americans are paying what we should.
Another indication that we're starting to awake from our national stupor came in a recent CNBC online survey asking, "Who's to Blame for America's Oil Crisis?" While certainly not scientific, the more than 10,000 responses are suggestive. The usual suspects – President Bush, OPEC, the big oil companies – were named of course. Yet it is Congress, cited by more than a third of those answering the question, that's chiefly culpable, garnering more blame than even the despised oil speculators.
Three months before the 2006 elections that put Democrats in control of Congress, Newsweek and Princeton Survey Research Associates found that Americans trusted Democrats to do a better job of handling gas prices. A much better job, by better than a two to one margin over the GOP.
Was that confidence justified? Not according to data compiled by the U. S. Department of Energy. The week the Democrats smashed Republicans in the 2006 elections, the retail price of regular reformulated gas was $2.22. Last week, the price was $4.16.
Before the election that made her House speaker, Nancy Pelosi cranked out a press release announcing: "Democrats have a commonsense plan to help bring down skyrocketing gas prices. . . "
OK, Nancykins, do you think it's about time to implement that commonsense plan you and your sidekicks promised?
Please, don't suggest the standard liberal nostrums. Windfall taxes on oil companies don't work. Like all business taxes, they're merely passed on to the consumer.
Some in Congress think more investigations will help. In May, two Democratic senators asked President Bush to set up a task force to investigate if energy speculators are driving up prices "through manipulative or deceptive practices."
We've seen it all before. A dozen years ago when gas shot up to almost $1.30 a gallon, Democratic senators called for investigations. Clinton took a break from defiling the White House and ordered the inquiries. Righteous indignation faded within weeks when prices fell by a nickel a gallon. The Energy Department decided fluctuations in gas prices weren't part of a conspiracy, but just a normal reaction. No wonder liberals despise the free market.
At the same time Congress wrings its hands about higher prices, it considers global warming legislation that will increase costs at the pump. Is that the Democrats' promised commonsense plan to bring down prices?
Increased gas prices have focused attention on the necessity for us to develop domestic energy resources. Critics charge that will take years. That's true, but we can't go back to 1995 and have Clinton undo his veto or go back to all the years that Congress refused to take action.
What we can do is start using America's oil potential, which has been estimated at billions of barrels. That'll probably require a new cast in Washington. And that will require a majority of us to connect the dots. We can only hope gas doesn't hit $10.00 a gallon before we figure it out.
This Michael Bates column appeared in the June 12, 2008 Reporter Newspapers.