Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Gas Pains

Next time you're stading there with a gas pump in your hand, watching the meter rack up a price that resembles your zip code, chew on these words:
"Of course [the world price of oil] is going to rise. "Certainly! And how...You [Western nations] increased the price of wheat you sell us by 300%, and the same for sugar and cement...It's only fair that, from now on, you should pay more for oil..."
Those words came not from Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejadnor, nor Hugo Chavez of Venezuela nor Osama bin Laden. It came from our longtime ally, the Shah of Iran, in 1973.
That's right, folks, 33 years ago.
That's how long we've been jerked around by a combination of geo-political shenanigans, price gouging and an appaling lack of political will and personal responsibility.
At first, there were the gas lines, brought about when Arab oil producing countries refused to ship to countries that had supported Israel in the Yom Kipper war.
Lines streched blocks, even miles. Tempers flared, violence erupted. Drivers followed tanker trucks on their delivery routes. I knew people who would wake in the morning to find the contents of their car's gas tank siphoned away in the middle of the night.
Finally, the odd/even rule was instituted. If you had a license plate number that ended in an odd number, you bought gas only on odd-numbered days of the month, while those with even numbers bought on even-numbered days. My routine was to arise at 5:30 in the morning, take a Thermos of coffee and the morning paper and queue up with dozens of other motorists waiting for the gas station to open. If you didn't get there early, chances are the station would be dry by 9 a.m.
The national speed limit was reduced to 55 mph, year-round daylight savings time was implemented, an advertising campain told us, "Don't Be Fuelish."
It was simple but effective. We made personal sacrifices so we could collectively survive.
Considering that we are being told today that this is a supply and demand issue, should we institute those restrictions again now?
It's clear we can't turn to Washington for help.
Jimmy Carter's solution to the energy crisis was to urge citizens not to turn up their thermostats and wear sweaters. He also installed solar power panels on the roof of the White House and a wood-burning stove in the living quarters. However, his successor, Ronald Reagan, ordered the solar panels removed and the wood stove dismantled.
Reagan removed controls on oil prices, which resulted in lower prices and a glut of oil. But he did nothing to encourage conservation which haunts us to this day.
Clinton dipped into strategic reserves as a solution. Now Bush is essentially doing the same thing by halting for the summer the purchase of crude oil for the government's emergency reserves and waiving clean air rules.
Bush also has directed the Federal Trade Commission, the Justice Department and the Energy Department to investigate whether the price of gasoline has been unfairly manipulated.
One might reasonably ask what took so long. But we can also say with some certainty that by the time such an investigation is concluded, Bush will be retired, tweaking the plans for his presidential library.
Ethanol? Hydrogen? Practically speaking, they are years away.
So why not return to the odd/even plan? Why not lower the speed limit?
Could you plan ahead for your gasoline purchaes if it saved you a buck a gallon or more?
Could you drive 10 mph slower if it put money back in your pocket?
Could you learn to restrict your driving habits if it paid dividends, not only for you but for all Americans?
Would you personally work to contribute to a Untied States that is less dependant on foreign oil?
People is this country learned to live with gasoline rationing during World War II, driving cars that were much less fuel efficient than they are now.
Why? They did it to defeat an enemy that threatened their way of life.
Do we face such an enemy now?
Think of it in these terms: If Iran succeeds in creating nuclear weapons, the American motorist would have paid part of the cost.

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