Daily Bruin (U. California-Los Angeles)
(U-WIRE) 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
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.