Vote with your feet

April 18, 2006

If folks in Congress start claiming they're doing something about $3-plus-per-gallon gasoline prices, don't believe them. There's not much they can do.

The latest burst in prices at the pump reflects the global oil market, which is jittery about tensions with Iran, a major oil producer. There are also other factors beyond the lawmakers' control, including a nearly maxed-out global supply of oil that can't possibly keep pace with growing world demand. Some lawmakers propose opening vast new areas of the United States and its coastline to oil exploration in hopes of boosting domestic supplies, but such efforts, apart from causing irreparable environmental damage, wouldn't yield results for many years to come.

The surest way to cut daily gasoline costs is simply to use less of it. Congress can help - though again, not immediately - by making mass transportation more widely available and demanding greater fuel efficiency from the cars and trucks that clog the nation's roads.

Alas, this is not the direction in which Congress is heading. In fact, President Bush has taken a more progressive approach to the issue by at least setting the goal of breaking the nation's dependence on oil. But he, too, gives short shrift to conservation and improved fuel efficiency. His budget for this year actually includes less than Congress has authorized for mass transit and proposes to cut funds for Amtrak from last year's level.

Mr. Bush contends that the cure for America's oil addiction will come through technology. But as The Sun's Julie Hirschfeld Davis reported this week, Congress is much too focused on the fall elections to make the enormous investment in long-term research that would likely be required.

And neither the president nor Congress will force U.S. automakers to apply technology already available to make their vehicles substantially more efficient. A minor increase in fuel efficiency standards announced by the administration last month for 2008 models will hardly make a dent in gasoline prices, which could be even higher by then.

Thus, it's up to drivers to vote with their feet - literally. Eliminate unnecessary trips. Car pool or use public transportation when possible. When the time comes to trade in the old jalopy, choose a vehicle that's cheaper to operate. Such measures not only will save money for those who apply them, but they also will drive down the cost of gasoline if enough people participate.

The sad truth is that just about the only lawmakers who can honestly claim they are working toward gas price relief in the near term are those taking buses or bicycles to work.

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