Lower Gasoline Prices Are Not the Answer

Politics being what they are I suppose I should not be surprised that Senator Kerry is using the currently high price of gasoline to bash President Bush. Nevertheless, I am disheartened.

RE Insider – June 1, 2004 – Kerry, the presumptive Democratic nominee for President, is essentially attacking President Bush for not releasing petroleum from the nation’s strategic reserve and for not “jawboning” down the price of petroleum with OPEC leaders. The President’s reasons for not releasing supplies are: doing so would not significantly lower the price of gasoline; and, the nation might need those reserves in an emergency. Concern over the possibility of an emergency grows each day and, in fact, explains why the reserve is being filled more rapidly in the first place. I believe the President’s reasons are valid. What I don’t believe valid is Kerry’s premise that part of the President’s job is keeping down the price of oil. It certainly isn’t that I enjoy paying $2.25 or more for a gallon for gasoline, or that I can’t comprehend the impact of transportation costs on most Americans. The issue I take with the Senator’s position is that pressuring OPEC to lower prices maintains the national addiction to petroleum and postpones coming to grips now with a problem that will only get worse. Rather than firing bullets in the Middle East, we should be biting the bullet here at home to do what is necessary to make an earnest and rapid transition to a sustainable energy economy. Notwithstanding Kerry’s policy proposals in support of sustainable energy sources, cheap gasoline encourages its use. A commitment to lower fuel prices is simply incompatible with the objective of achieving a sustainable energy economy. In this regard, the President’s push to squeeze more oil from under U.S. soil is as flawed as the Senator’s desire to dicker price with OPEC ministers. A recent, and unmistakable trend worth noting is that of car buyers purchasing automobiles using new technologies to squeeze every bit of mileage out a gallon of gas. The trend is pronounced enough as to be of concern to automakers; they make their greatest profit on SUVs. In response to the current shift in consumer sentiment, automakers are now deeply discounting the price of their SUVs, while increasing the price of their more efficient vehicles. I do not begrudge the automakers their effort to maximize profits. From a corporate perspective this makes perfect sense. Because it is understandable — even predictable — I question Kerry’s suggestion that talking down the price of gasoline somehow benefits the nation. It will, in my opinion, only serve to keep bad habits alive — habits proving more costly in the future than they cost today. The nation must comprehend the true price of petroleum –particularly foreign oil — not be shielded from it. Wars in the Middle East and the ability of foreign cartels to control the quantity and price of petroleum should be telling Kerry, the President and Congress that it is time to do something substantive and immediate about the national appetite for oil and the vulnerability that results from having a petroleum monkey on our collective back. As leaders of the American people, politicians should be directing, not obstructing, the transition towards sustainability. The currently high price of gasoline is not a momentary thing. Although it may come down a bit from time to time, the incredible demands placed on global petroleum not only by the U. S., but by China, India and other developing economies will assure diminishing supplies along with higher prices — either until the world no longer needs petroleum or supplies run out. Jawboning cannot change the simple economic principle: the greater the demand, the less the supply, the dearer the cost. Events in the world support the need for a new national energy policy. A policy that is clear about its objective of freeing the United States from a fossil fuel standard that risks the nation’s health, economy and security. The answer to rising prices, worsening environments and threatening terrorist acts against the Nation’s currently centralized and fossil fuel-addicted energy infrastructure is the rapid growth of domestically available clean energy technologies lending themselves to decentralized applications. This year’s elections offer the perfect backdrop for an honest national debate about the consequences of the country’s current energy practices. It is my personal opinion that people are willing to do what is necessary to develop clean domestic supplies of energy. Unfortunately, it is also my opinion that very few of today’s candidates are willing to step up to the challenge by proposing specific steps, establishing a reasonable timeline and measurable standards and recognizing that there are times when it is impossible to be both in favor of maintaining and changing the status quo. Choices are hard, but they must be made. The Nation’s leaders would be unwise to let circumstances dictate the choices they were unable to make. Constituents would be even less wise to stay out of the debate and not demanding more enlightened leadership. Electioneering brings political candidates in proximity to voters — voters should use the opportunity to speak, as well as to listen. If the statements of candidates do not address the necessity of achieving a sustainable energy economy in the next 10 to 20 years, then voters should be demanding they do. If, as in the cases of Senator Kerry and President Bush, their statements appear inconsistent or raise doubts as to the sharpness of their vision or their willingness to make the hard decisions necessary for leading the nation toward an energy standard based upon clean and available domestic energy supplies, then constituents should call them on it and get others in their community to do the same. The current national energy policy is harmful to the Nation’s health, welfare and security and must be changed. The next President of the United States, as well as the members of the 108th Congress, should rightfully be expected to propose and enact policies that will quickly lower the cost of continuing dependence upon fossil and nuclear fuels — not the cost of a gallon of gasoline. November’s elections assure voters the opportunity to speak and to listen — and like any national resource the opportunity should not be wasted. About the author… Joel B. Stronberg has been in private practice since 1978. Currently the Washington Representative for the American Solar Energy Society, he has also counseled many of the major renewable energy sector organizations on key policy initiatives throughout his career and served as a special counsel at the U. S. Department of Energy. Mr. Stronberg attended Northwestern University where he earned a graduate degrees in law and urban studies. He can be reached at [email protected]