Too little, too late

April 27, 2006

It's almost amusing to see President Bush vowing to get "aggressive on price gouging" at the gasoline pump.

If he takes a good look at why gas accounts for a growing share of the family budget, he'd find contributing factors in which he is more than a little complicit - and for which he has few solutions:

Federal refusal to demand vehicles be as Fuel-efficient as possible, which could save millions of barrels of oil annually.

Enactment last year of more than $2 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry and a continuing waiver of royalties for deep-sea drilling at a time of record-high industry profits.

Minuscule investment in alternative fuel technologies, which Mr. Bush now promotes as the ultimate solution.

A federal emphasis on increasing domestic oil supplies that downplayed conservation efforts. Remember, it was Vice President Dick Cheney who said in 2001 that conservation "may be a personal virtue, but it is not a sufficient basis for a sound, comprehensive energy policy."

No wonder the nation has grown so dependent on this increasingly scarce commodity that, as Mr. Bush observed, the United States has little sway with unstable but oil-rich countries.

None of the recent proposals offered by Mr. Bush - or his Democratic critics - provides any hope of real relief at the pump. The president said he would free up oil for the summer that would otherwise go to emergency reserves, and relax some environmental requirements on fuel blends. Neither step will have much effect.

Mr. Bush also wants to repeal some tax breaks to the oil industry, and provide more tax credits for buying fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles. But he could have done that when the energy bill passed last summer. Now it's unclear whether Congress will support his proposals.

Democrats want to eliminate $6 billion in tax breaks to the oil industry and use the savings to give drivers a two-month holiday from the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon. A better plan would be to put the $6 billion toward more mass transit.

Perhaps Mr. Bush's investigation will find that the oil market has been illegally manipulated. But it's nonetheless clear that Americans have put themselves in a spot where they have little choice but to pay the pump price.

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