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Blame is not the solution to the oil problem

Fri, Jun 27th, 2008
Posted in Commentary

It is human nature to assign blame when confronted with painful realities. That is the case with four dollar per gallon gasoline. President Bush blamed environmentalists and, of course, the Democrats. In a transparent pander to the oil companies he acted as if the poor dears were doing their best for the country but they were shackled because they couldn't drill anywhere they liked. Presumably that included the White House lawn.

Possibly his call to negate the ban on off-shore drilling his father started 27 years ago and his brother, as governor of Florida, supported was an oedipal rebellion. Maybe it was an attempt to support John McCain who had called for this same action just a few days before.

The idea that drilling in the restricted areas will reduce gasoline costs soon is as silly as McCain's idea of a gas tax holiday helping working people.

The New York Times notes that the Energy Information Administration states that if both coasts were opened and large amounts of oil found it would be 2030 before it would affect prices. The idea that a country that uses 25% of the oil produced now and has 3% of the known reserves in its boundaries can drill its way out of dependence on foreign oil is absurd.

While oil company executives may be rapacious they are not stupid. They must know this better than anyone. The consensus in the main-stream media seems to be that despite having 7000 leases of public land to drill on now, and using only a little over 20% of them to date, they want to lock up as much public land as they can while Bush/Cheney are in the White House. The federal Mineral Management Service is reported in the New York Times to claim that of the 89 billion barrels of oil thought to be recoverable in the off shore areas, 80 percent is now open to the oil industry.

This doesn't explain how we have come to this pass or who to blame. Not that attaching blame is going to get us to a better place anytime soon.

This is how it appears to me. Some blame must be placed on all Americans, due to our love affair with over powered SUVs and gas guzzling cars. Recent events such as the lines at filling stations and actual scarcity of gas in some areas during the initial gas crisis should have taught us lessons.

Blame also goes to all the Congresses and Administrations for the last 30 years that failed to require increasingly stringent Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for autos/trucks sold in this country. All of the industry people who lobbied against such standards and the politicians beholden to them bear some responsibility.

The Bush administration that has not had a reasonable energy policy shares blame. Those individuals that met secretly with Vice President Cheney to cement the status quo on energy and elevated the internal combustion engine and coal fired electrical generating to untouchable status deserve a great share of the blame.

Bush/Cheney destabilized the Middle East with a war that was immaterial to the safety of this nation. The war has reduced our influence in the region to the point that personal visits and requests by our Vice President and then the President to our oldest and closest ally to pump more oil were summarily turned down.

Speculators have been influential in raising oil prices without a doubt. Estimates of their effect vary widely. We may never know how much of the price we pay are purely the result of people with lots of money to invest driving the financial motor. Attempts to limit the amount of "futures" investors can hold and attempts to require more money down for the futures are being fought by big money, apparently.

There is plenty of blame to go around. Effort should go into mitigation of the problem. We should require oil companies to use the 80% of the land they now have under lease or lose their rights. They have enough profits to reinvest.

Reasonable CAFE standards should be passed by Congress. Reestablishment of the 55 or even 50 mile per hour speed limit with enforcement should be done. Federal investments in alternate energy systems, in biofuels that do not use up foodstuffs, in mass transit modalities should be a priority.

Finally, we all have to conserve. That means in general driving less and slower.

Robert Sauer lives in Preston.

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