With the price of gasoline escalating at a dizzying pace, it’s tempting for our elected leaders to say things the public may interpret as a solution to the economic nightmare from which America cannot awake. For example, President Bush on Wednesday urged Congress to lift a long-standing ban on offshore oil drilling. And Sen. John McCain, the presumptive GOP presidential nominee, Monday made lifting the ban a key part of his campaign. Bush’s plea is likely to go nowhere, as the Associated Press and others have noted, because Democrats in Congress remain steadfastly opposed to such an action. And frankly, if Big Oil started drilling off the coast of Florida and along the U.S. outer continental shelf today, it would be about 10 years before production could begin to alter the supply and demand equation. That doesn’t mean it is a bad suggestion, and it’s one Congress will be forced to consider. Had offshore drilling been enacted 10 to 15 years ago, it’s unlikely Middle East crude oil would be selling for more than $130 a barrel, and gas at the pump wouldn’t be above $4 a gallon and rising.
The public, however, must take a firm grasp on reality. While it makes sense to go after vast reserves of oil off the United States’ coastline - and technology has advanced to the point where environmental disasters are much less probable now - this is no short-term solution. A logical approach, and one that would have far greater impact on existing gasoline costs (and other costs as well for commodities such as food, that are linked to an oil-based economy) would be to:
- Cut gas consumption by driving fuel-miser or hybrid cars that get 30 to 40-plus miles per gallon;
- Demand that Congress move quickly to establish minimum standards for fuel consumption, mandating vehicles that will go farther on less fuel.
- Kiss the SUVs, gas guzzler sedans and oversized pickup trucks good-by; and
- Insist Congress and our state legislatures shift transportation plans involving rail and buses to the top of the priority lists.
- Create incentives for development of alternative fuel vehicles.
Without movement on all fronts, one cannot reasonably expect price reductions at the pump in any substantial way. International demand for fuel is just too great - China and India present a huge, growing market for gasoline and diesel, leaving fuel prices nowhere to go but up. The only bright spot where we have a shot at holding fuel costs down is to change the demand side of the equation.
This can be done only by rapidly altering how much gas it takes for motoring from point A to point B.