Apr 062004
Authors: Mike Bitondo

Daily Bruin (U. California-Los Angeles)



Gas prices, which have risen to a record national average of

$1.80, have also sparked fierce rhetoric from President Bush and

Sen. John Kerry. Unfortunately, for the American consumer, the

accusations and lofty promises both candidates have made regarding

the gas issue are mostly hollow.

Bush’s major energy proposals lack a serious approach to dealing

with our country’s dependence on foreign oil. His biggest policy

initiative, which would open up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

for oil drilling, would somewhat increase the amount of

domestically produced oil. But this quantity would be small

compared to the mammoth amount of oil the United States consumes.

Additionally, it would provide a limited supply because only 3

percent of the world’s oil reserves lie in the United States, while

65 percent are in the Middle East. In the end, the harmful side

effects of drilling oil wells and building pipelines through

thousands of acres of the nation’s most pristine wilderness far

outweigh the small amount of oil that could be extracted.

The best way to reduce the our dependence on foreign oil,

without drastically decreasing our energy consumption, would be to

pursue a dual policy of significantly increasing energy efficiency

and alternative fuel sources. Bush, however, has avoided both these

ideas. His one proposal is a small-scale program to promote the

development of hydrogen fuel cell technology.

Unfortunately, many of Kerry’s proposals are also full of hot

air. One of his big ideas is to apply more diplomatic pressure to

the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries to discourage

them from tampering with supplies to keep oil prices artificially

high. While the president of the United States is in an incredibly

powerful position, OPEC member states have shown that they are able

to resist high levels of pressure.

Another one of Kerry’s proposals is to tap the Strategic

Petroleum Reserves to help decrease prices. Former Vice President

Al Gore supported a similar plan during his 2000 campaign. However,

this kind of action would only have a limited effect on gas prices

for a very small period of time. Additionally, the Strategic

Petroleum Reserves were only meant to be used during emergencies

like the oil embargoes of the 1970s, not for dealing with price

spikes like the current one.

At full capacity, the reserves would only generate about 60 days

worth of oil if all imports were suddenly cut off. Most

importantly, this kind of action only encourages the political

procrastination that has been taking place when it comes to dealing

with national energy issues. Releasing oil from the reserves would

not get to the root of the problem with the United States’ energy


One of Kerry’s proposals that does offer some hope is a plan to

simplify the myriad of regional, state and local regulations

relating to the production of gasoline. These regulations have

created dozens of market “islands” across the country, where

gasoline must be produced in a certain way according to a certain

formula. In other words, gasoline is not standardized.

These regulations create artificial barriers separating the oil

markets and serve as trade barriers that block the free flow of

refined gasoline.

One of the biggest examples of these market islands is our very

own state of California, where prices hit as high as $2.69 per

gallon over the weekend in places like San Diego, compared to a

national average of $1.82 per gallon and as low as $1.43 in places

like Lake Wylie, S.C. If all of these different rules could be

simplified to reduce the number of market islands, refineries would

be subjected to increased competition, which would help to balance

prices across the nation.

Reducing the number of isolated markets would also limit the

effect of shortages on gas prices. For example, if a refinery in

California were to be shut down by a fire or for repairs, stations

could import gas from refineries outside the state, preventing

shortages and price increases.

But while this is a good mid-term solution that could help

stabilize prices, it wouldn’t reduce our dependency on foreign


Ultimately, that is what the next president must focus on.

Hopefully, both candidates will embrace energy efficiency and

alternative fuel sources.

Until then, individual citizens can do some good by buying

fuel-efficient cars and using alternative modes of transportation

like motor scooters, bicycles and public transportation. But I

somehow doubt most Americans can get over their fascination with

the gas-guzzlers unless the federal government inspires them with

some sort of carrot (or stick).

For now, we can hope prices will go down. But for the long haul,

the United States must come to grips with the reality that the

world’s oil pumps will eventually run dry. It’s not too soon to

prepare for that day.

 Posted by at 5:00 pm

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