Easing America’s gas pains

When Washington is in crisis mode, its officials move into high-speed action mode. Which is to say, they start talking faster.

And America’s gas pains — economic and political — are a major crisis that is hurting worst those who can afford it least. So Washington officials are a blur of action, racing in front of the cameras to promote their pet solutions.

Here’s where we are today: Gasoline prices are shooting up faster than the gas station guys can scurry up the ladders to change the big numbers on the big signs. Indeed, the only thing shooting up as fast are the profits of Exxon and the other big oil companies — huge profits, record profits. Exxon’s profits for the first quarter of 2008 were a whopping 17 percent higher than its huge profits from the previous quarter.

Big Oil’s profits far exceed those of the other industries that you used to think needed to be reined in — Big Pharm, Big Farm, the old Ma Bell. Big Oil’s response is short and crude: The world price of crude oil is at record highs. That’s why you must pay record prices at the pumps.

The notion that the burden should be shared by all — with you paying less at the pump and oil companies taking lesser profits that, even so, are still higher than those in other industries — is something big oil considers to be insultingly crude (only this time they pronounce it without the "e").

Here is what Official Washington is saying today:

Democrats say we must fix what is wrong by clamping a new tax on the windfall profits of the big oil companies. That will cause the big oil companies to act more responsibly.

Republicans are saying windfall, shmindfall. Big profits are the mother lode of capitalism. The Grand Old Party’s top answer for your gas pains today has been an idea that may well make it less likely that you will remain doubled over with gas pains a decade from now: Start drilling for oil beneath good old American land — in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWAR).

To which environmentalists say, drilling there could endanger Arctic wildlife. To which economic survivalists could say the Arctic wildlife is already endangered by the pigs of the lower 48 and the rest of the world — because their energy emissions are already endangering life in the Arctic.

Here is what Washington’s left and right are also saying: We must promote alternative fuels — solar, wind, ethanol, natural gas, diesel (the new engines are far cleaner than they used to be), shale, hydrogen fuel cell cars of the future, and the hybrid cars of today. To which many will stop you at the mention of "ethanol" to utter the in-crowd’s new reflexive response: A gallon of ethanol costs more to produce than a gallon of gas — and corn for ethanol is driving up prices of all things that use corn. To which one can respond: But at least we won’t be picking that corn in the sands of Saudi Arabia.

Also, Washington needs to fix its hybrid tax-credit bungle. Buyers of "full hybrid" cars which achieve maximum mileage and produce near zero emissions — Toyota’s Prius and Honda’s Civic (with miles per gallon in the upper 40s) and Toyota’s mid-size Camry (35 MPG) — deserve federal tax credits that must be made permanent. Buyers of silly "mild hybrid" cars such as the Chevrolet Malibu which scores just 2 MPG better than non-hybrid models should get no federal tax credits.

Here is what nobody seems to have the political fortitude (see also: governmental guts) to say: Washington’s left, right and squishy-soft center need to end their battles of the buzz words, deep-six their pet political agendas and recognize that America’s energy crisis requires an urgent, all-out approach.

Today it is an economic security crisis. Those suffering most are those who can least afford to pay $4 — going on $5 — a gallon. Those soaring gas prices are being matched by soaring prices for all goods and services that at some point involve the use of petroleum, which is to say: Everything).

Tomorrow it is a national security crisis: America still imports 60 percent of its oil, much of it from the volatile Middle East. We can no longer wait for politically perfect solutions. Drill in ANWAR and safeguard the wildlife in every way possible. Today we face a rare test of political will. To which the correct answer must be: All of the above.


(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)gmail.com.)


  1. tropicaltaco

    Everything we have today comes from petroleum. It is in everything in our home from the linoleum flooring, carpet,plywood, particle board, most plastic parts in home appliances. Most all homes were wrapped in tar paper from roof to the ground during construction, All the above including that new shower curtain and new car interior give off a gas that is cancer causing. It is said that one in every two men and one in three women will get some form of cancer during their life and every aspect of the oil industry is polluting our environment and they want to open up even more land here to produce even more oil so we can continue on down the path to our own demise.
    On top of all this they are saying that record windfall profits for oil companied have nothing to do with record high prices of gas at the pump, oh please..Somebody explain this to me so I can understand…
    I say tax the greedy bastards and use the money to find another way and please don’t tell me that finding an alternative to oil is not possible in the near future. It is, we just have to get to doin it… For the time being try Googling HHO for starters.

  2. Ted Remington

    “It is said that one in every two men and one in three women will get some form of cancer during their life. . ..”

    The three most misleading words in the English language are “it is said.” You can take it to the bank that the person who says that has no earthly idea about the validity of the rest of the sentence, and that this phrase is put there specifically to cover up a lie, a distortion, or the fact that a supposed fact actually isn’t.

    I’m not in favor of any form of censorship (ever!) but if we had a filter here that would highlight this little phrase and put large red flags at either end to warn the reader to beware of what follows would not bother me at all.


  3. RSW

    As much as I really hate to say it, government needs to regulate the industry. The huge profits will continue unabated otherwise.

    • Tax – will get passed on, nothing changes.
    • Republicans – not the answer – oil companies are at the top of the food chain. In addition, they have control of the vertical markets. Gas prices don’t fall as much as oil prices when the cost of a barrel of oil goes down significantly (not likely to happen anymore).
    • Democrats aren’t the answer, either.
    • Alternatives – solar, wind. These are small planet technologies that need to be expanded as much as possible. Europe is subsidising solar for homes (Germany, at least).
    • Alternatives – natural gas, diesel. Natural gas is in the same state of affairs as oil, controlled by much the same power infrastructure. Diesel comes from oil (never mind bio-diesel).
    • Bio-diesel – at best, a small planet solution, and should be used that way. The technology needs a saleable market place to achieve.
    • Ethanol. A bad choice all the way around. It costs more in energy than the product that results emits. This is just plain stupid. And what happens in those years where the corn crops get hit — too much rain (could this be the year?), insect infestations, etc. Will the producers head for Washington for more subsidies (that’s the only thing keeping these people interested, anyway). What about the fact that most of these crops are coming from large corporate interests that use oil based pesticides and fertilizers? Ethanol also has major pollution risks, definitely not green. Transportation and distribution is a major problem and expense as well. By the way, there’s a smidgen of difference between green and greed.

    There is no good solution being presented by the pundits and politicians, the economists (priests of the realm), or anywhere else, for that matter. The only real solution is to hold the oil companies’ feet to the fire: They need to be regulated. Of course, this will happen after I’m long gone.


  4. RSW

    Yes, revolution is A solution. But history tells us that the leaders coming out of it are every bit as tainted as those they replace.


  5. CheckerboardStrangler

    Ethanol isn’t supposed to be made from corn, at least not for the private transportation sector. A farmer is wise when he makes a few gallons of the stuff to run small engines and a tractor or two. He’s rich if he can grow the stuff to sell to the oil companies for their “ten percent ethanol” blends, and he is filthy rich if all his corn gets made into ethanol for E85.

    But the farmer doesn’t care if the end return on energy invested (EROEI) is negative on corn ethanol.

    WE DO.

    That’s why corn ethanol is a bad idea.
    But CELLULOSIC ethanol is a great idea, hence why it is given almost NO press, NO research and almost NO FUNDING.

    Why? Because the farm lobby is a lot bigger than the CELLULOSIC lobby, if they even HAVE a lobby at all.

    Cellulosic ethanol is ethanol made from anything BUT CORN, anything BUT GRAIN of any kind. It’s made from material broken down from plant wastes of all kinds.
    It’s harder to make right now, because it is a new technology.

    But in the end we’re all going to realize that ethanol as a whole, cellulosic and otherwise, is a stop gap measure because in the end America needs to get away from liquid fuels and into electric powered private transportation.

    There will always be a need for great big muscular trucks and other vehicles which use the mighty power of liquid fuels, even OIL, but there is no need for liquid fuels to power the mundane people movers that haul our 140 pound asses down the freeway to work and back or to the mall.

    It’s woefully inefficient even as it creates great bursts of power, it’s still an inefficient use of the material, and we live in a world with ever increasing demands for a FINITE set of energy sources and we need to focus on those energy sources which are less finite and more renewable.

    That leaves all liquid fuels out of the equation entirely and leaves the spotlight on electric, particularly that electric produced from wind, solar and nuclear.

    Electric cars are America’s new “space race” only this time it really DOES concern our actual survival as a nation. If we don’t make this shot, we’re frikken DOOMED.

    JeffH in Occupied TX

  6. Direct Democracy

    “I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment bankers. There are only two things we should fight for. One is the defense of our homes and the other is the Bill of Rights. War for any other reason is simply a racket.”

    Major General Smedley Darlington Butler