Paying for our gas pains

Let’s see. A key measure of consumer confidence dropped this month to its lowest level in 16 years, “as Americans grew more concerned about their jobs and more pessimistic about business conditions.”

Meanwhile, “Oil prices have doubled in the past 12 months, surging nearly $8 a barrel in the past four days (since Tuesday) alone.” Both of these stories ran on

Do these two numbers have anything in common? They are about as intensely intertwined as summer kudzu strangling an oak tree. Is skyrocketing oil the only negative pressure on the U.S. economy? Of course not. There’s the housing recession, the costly and un-winnable war in Iraq, record federal debt and a weak dollar.

Nonetheless, rising oil prices permeate the price of every consumer good imaginable making them more impactful than other factors. We Americans have known since the oil crisis of the 1970s that we needed to reduce oil consumption. We were warned again years ago as China and India ratcheted up oil usage. Rather than reacting by trimming back profligate oil usage here at home, we twiddled our thumbs, caved into business pressures to burn obscene amounts of energy and let the free-market types talk us into believing there would be no consequences.

Cheap oil is long gone and yet we still behave as if it were cheap and plentiful. Reform, massive reform, is needed and soon.

This weekend in my own neighborhood I observed one guy driving a Maserati with his top down. I counted three Hummers and I spied one couple pulling a powerboat behind a Cadillac Escalade. Far as I can tell, if Americans had any common sense, such behavior would have been banned years ago. Either that, or taxed into oblivion.

I’m not talking about banning gas guzzling agricultural or commercial vehicles. They are necessary to everyone’s economic wellbeing.

But given our present situation, the fact that people could be allowed to drive Maseratis as street vehicles or to spend $1500 (as one newspaper recently recounted the cost) to fill up the tank of a power boat while the rest of us can barely afford $4 for regular gas, is obscene. Gas tax policy must be revised to reward Americans driving fuel-efficient vehicles and take an “off with their heads” approach to profligate guzzlers.

Rocky Mountain Institute CEO Amory Lovins (who advocates lighter cars for greater fuel efficiency) says between 1977-85, when the U.S. last paid serious attention to oil consumption, we cut oil use 17 percent, cut oil imports by 50 percent, and trimmed Persian Gulf imports 87 percent while the economy grew 27 percents. Lovins’ critics claim lighter cars would lead to more highway deaths.

That’s an argument for another column, but in the meantime, Detroit has not seen fit to design lighter-weight vehicles. Not yet.

Detroit has seen a significant decline in sales of gas-guzzlers and while it’s a bad thing for automobile factory workers, it’s a good thing for oil consumption. But we need to do more. That includes severely punishing guzzlers who profligately burn fuel for leisure activities.

2004 Energy Information Administration figures show 20 million barrels of oil are consumed each day in the U.S. Some 40 percent is consumed by passenger vehicles, 24 percent by industry, 12 percent by commercial and freight trucks, and the rest by aircraft and buildings. Reducing profligate and unnecessary oil use among passenger vehicles is the quickest way to reduce demand.

How? We either ban profligate use or tax it into oblivion. Five years ago the National Review Online ran an article defending SUV owners:

“…But this is a cost (higher gas costs) that SUV owners are apparently willing to bear. Driving a vehicle with lower gas mileage requires them to purchase more gas. They are paying for the costs of their choice, and then some…”

Not all SUVs are profligate guzzlers. Some SUVs are fairly efficient. But this attitude, that Hummer drivers are already paying their fare share by buying more gas, is clearly wrong. Hummer drivers are also driving up the price of gas for hybrid drivers, and that’s crazy.

Do we have the political will to penalize profligate gas consumption? Not yet. But maybe when gas hits $8 per gallon, we’ll start to develop some spine.

(Bonnie Erbe is a TV host and columnist. E-mail bonnieerbe(at)


  1. griff

    That’s the answer…more government control and less freedom. Blame the people and not the government, whose policies and manipulation created this problem.

    We have two hundred years of oil in one reserve alone, so instead of pressuring the government to tap that resource and buy us some time and relief, you choose to punish the prosperous. There are hundreds of wells in the Gulf of Mexico alone that have been tapped and capped, meaning they are ready for production but sit idle.

    This is not a supply problem anyway. The supply is there, the refining capabilities in this country are antiquated and in need of updating and repair. Bureaucratic red tape and frivolous lawsuits make new refineries virtually impossible to attain.

    Lightweight materials are far more expensive and will drive up the costs of vehicles significantly, not to mention the energy required to produce these materials.

    Blaming the people for living the American Dream while completely ignoring the government’s and big oil’s contribution to this mess is proposterous.

    This was a pathetic and completely ignorant article.

  2. Flapsaddle

    “The supply is there, the refining capabilities in this country are antiquated and in need of updating and repair.”

    Bingo! Our refineries are operating at about 98% of capacity, and they have in most cases been refitted and retrofitted to the point of diminishing returns. Turnarounds – scheduled downtime necessary for maintenance – decreases production just as do shutdowns – unscheduled off-line time due to accidents or natural disasters.

    Newer facilities are needed and needed quickly. Lead time can be up to five years, given the environmental permitting pissing contest.

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  3. lexiedogmom

    Lexie Homewood


    What is your source for the “200 years of oil in one reserve”? I have no doubt the the government (the two oil men in the executive offices) and policies (we still have no idea what went on in Cheney’s secret energy policy meeting, and who the participants were.) have a lot to do with this oil/gasoline mess. Someone is getting very, very, rich on this. Look there to place the blame. With this administration, if it can’t be called “Classified Information”, then it’s called “Executive Privilege.”

    The way you are going to bat for ythe gas wasters, I’m guessing you are well fixed yourself.

  4. griff

    As a matter of fact, I lost my job two months ago due to skyrocketing fuel prices. I have yet to find another and face the real possibility of foreclosure as a result. Before that we were barely surviving. And I happen to be opposed to the homeowner bailout. My only luxury, that I’ve owned since 1995, is my motorcycle, which gets 50 MPG.

    I don’t let personal circumstances dictate or cloud my view of what the real causes of these problems are or who ultimately is to blame, nor do I use them as an excuse to beg for welfare from the government in exchange for more oppression.

    I thought it was common knowledge about the ANWR reserves, which would supply 30 – 50 years of oil. There is also vast reserves beneath the Rocky Mountains that rival the reserves of Saudi Arabia (an estimated 1.2 trillion recoverable barrels). 200 years of oil. I couldn’t find it just now, but I recall seeing a Congressional memo circulated concerning these reserves a couple of years ago.

    So we’re continually told that we need to rely on foreign oil while we sit on vast reserves ourselves. Not only that, but the perceived “crisis” leads to the massive propaganda and profiteering campaign that we’re all too eager to take as gospel, not to mention the imperial wars we are told are necessary for our “national interest”.

  5. switters


    Your comments are a breath of fresh air. Instead of going to the Saudis with hat in hand, we should get as many drill bits in the ground in our own country as we can, as fast as we can.

    I’ve unfortunately learned to expect the “class envy” mentality exhibited by Ms. Erbee and others, but I’ll never understand it.

    Doesn’t anyone want to strive for greatness any more? Why do we want to lower our lifestyles to be like the rest of the world?

  6. Flapsaddle

    No, you don’t call them like you see them….you call them like they really are! ];-)

    We can do a much better job without surrendering to either the environmental Luddites or the foreign oil suppliers.

    BTW, did you see where Indonesia is quitting OPEC?

    Most sincerely,

    T. J. Flapsaddle

  7. griff

    No, I can’t say that I saw the Indonesia news. A couple of months ago, OPEC actually refused to increase output, citing the lack of refining capacity in the U.S. and a tumbling dollar for the high prices, not a shortage of supply; therefore increasing supply would not solve the problem of a weak dollar.

    Since oil is traded in dollars, OPEC has every right to be concerned about the dollar losing its value at such an alarming rate, which has nothing to do with them but our own disastrous monetary and foreign policies.

    And now we have the U.S. House of Representatives approving a measure to allow a lawsuit against OPEC for manipulating supply. Ridiculous! No wonder we’re despised and ridiculed around the world. I’m truly embarassed by this.

  8. Butte Buzzie

    I see the story that the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is where they are hiding all the oil that will save us is still circulating. Actually there is not enough oil up there to even argue about so why be bothering the polar bears.
    The most cited numbers tell a story (once you look at them) and come from a 1998 United States Geological Survey (USGS) study which projected at least 4.3 billion (95% probability) and possibly as much as 11.8 billion (5% probability) barrels to be -just might be- yielded from this Arctic treasure as some are billing it.

    Unfortunately that doesn’t change the grim fact which is we are using 20 million barrels per day in the USA and are now importing 12 million of those barrels every day.

    The other part to those numbers is our 20 million barrels are 25 percent of the 80 million barrels the entire world consumes daily. Only a real fool would believe that situation will continue much longer.

    Then there is the Artic reserve. So let’s take the high or most optimistic number from the geologists, the 10.5 billion barrels of oil just waiting for us to come and get this bonanza and send it back to Texas for refining.

    But if you look at all the numbers, and use all the best case scenario and what you see is about enough oil to meet Americas needs for 525 days.

    Which is not going to happen.

    Even the big oil company scientists say it will take – if all goes right – 10 years for any Arctic Refuge oil to reach the market and it will do so in trickles, annualy producing 1 or 2 percent of Americans’ daily gasoline fix.

    In other words, whatever oil the Arctic refuge might produce is simply irrelevant to our grim energy problem. But like gay marriages and telephone calls at 3am, drilling in the Arctic refuge is a great political football but offers no solutions or insight to a subject we should be taking seriously.

    And what we should be taking seriously are those 20 million barrels a day we are gulping like there is no grim reaper on the horizon and just what are we going to do about it.

  9. griff

    Ah, copied almost verbatim from Wikipedia. Not the most accurate or reliable information resource, riddled with propaganda and unvetted sources. It’s amazing that the latest study cited was from 1998.

    But for the sake of argument, more recent studies show that ANWR would yield one million barrels a day for 30 years. Not a solution to the problem, but still a greater yield than all onshore oil production in the lower 48 states combined and a much needed supplement to foreign oil.

    Since North Slope production has fallen below one million barrels a day, and the pipeline already exists for transport, it would seem reasonable that increasing Alaskan production from the current 700,000+ barrels a day to almost two million barrels a day would help immensely, to the tune of an estimated seventy-five cents a gallon.

    The ANWR reserve covers 19.5 million acres, and the proposed production area is less than 2,000 acres. For comparison’s sake, Dulles Airport covers nearly 11,000 acres, more than five times the proposed production area in ANWR. I wonder how all the woodland creatures felt about that.

    New drilling and recovery technologies also contribute to a decreased ecological footprint and less disruption of wildlife. You may ask why 75% of Alaskans support responsible exploration in their own back yard.

    And if you think about it, if we began this endeavor in 1998, the oil would be just hitting the market today. That’s one million barrels per day we wouldn’t have to rely on OPEC for today. And of course, you totally ignore the vast reserves under Utah, Wyoming, and Colorado.

    Of course conservation is a worthwhile effort and I wholly support efforts to conserve and seek out alternative energy sources, as well as encourage responsible consumption, none of which was mentioned in the above article.

  10. mylastnerve

    Enough is enough, people! What has happened to our country? I am finally ready to blow. The gas situation is outrageous. Mastercard stated that gas prices were up approximately 25% from a year ago. Who are they kidding? Gas prices in my area are up approximately 92% from a year ago. Now our illustrious Governor wants to put additional taxes on gas in order to encourage Virginians to drive less, in order to help with Global Warming. The implications of such bone-headed legislation would be disastrous. Many self-emplyed people who drive as part of their daily routine, would have to quit and go on welfare. Tourism revenue would become nonexistent. People will no longer be able to commute to work, in order to make enough to pay their mortgages. More foreclosures (just what we need). And the list goes on.

    I believe in the free enterprise system, but I don’t believe in big business economically devastating the citizens of the country that gave them the support they needed when they were small operations. I have a relative who works for Exxon-Mobil. They have plenty of money to send him overseas to help with new refineries, but, they don’t have enough money to develop refineries here, in the United States. I guess, in their eyes, it’s OK to thumb their noses at American citizens. What are we going to do? We need gas, so we will pay any amount. What a wonderful attitude. It’s so easy to maintain this attitude when your retirement or severance package is in the millions. Try that attitude on the average salary!

    This is our government that supports big business at work! I can’t believe I am saying this, but, the government, as we know it, has got to go.

  11. Frazier1

    or consider this alternative take.

    No new fields open in the US, keep buying foreign until the taps run dry, when that day comes, who has the power? The guy with the oil reserves, now how happy would that make any ruling party in this country when the day comes and the Middle East is dry?