I generally like my Congressional representative, Sander Levin. He recently sent out an e-mail to constituents outlining some possible actions Congress could take to try to make a dent in the price of oil and gasoline. I didn’t think I would end up quite as negative about them as I did, but the more I wrote the more… well, you take a look:
- Suspend Further Shipments to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
- Congress has today acted on this one. Their measure would suspend shipments until oil prices return to $75 a barrel. Uh, good luck with that. The reserve is 97% full, according to Mr. Levin, and that’s not too bad. But, before anyone gets the idea of starting to drain the reserve just to reduce prices, does anyone remember what happened in the 1970s when we actually ran low on petroleum? Lines at gasoline stations were not fun in the least. That’s what the strategic reserve is supposed to prevent.
- Suspend the Federal Gas Tax.
- I’ve already come out against this. I still think it’s a short-sighted notion that will only derail road construction projects and increase the deficit.
- Crack Down on Price Gouging.
- I saw the bill they considered last year. It defined gouging as a price that’s “unconscionable.” Now, would someone please define “unconscionable” in terms that are legally enforceable? It’s OK, they can’t either.
- Drilling in Arctic Refuge.
- Yes, let’s take it out on the caribou. They don’t vote, anyway. Besides, it took $125/barrel oil prices to make drilling in Alaska and shipping it to American refineries economically viable.
- Boost Fuel Efficiency Standards.
- This is OK. But really, if consumers aren’t already demanding fuel efficient cars now, and car makers aren’t already listening to demands, then we’re screwed anyway.
- Invest in Advanced Vehicle Technologies.
- This is good. Of course, instead of government intervention, maybe a better incentive would be to let oil and gasoline prices stay high, so companies would be willing to develop these technologies and consumers would buy them.
Yeah, I’m sounding like a conservative with my naysaying. But these really are weak proposals by people who otherwise could do nothing but watch prices rise. What bothers me most are two things left out in Mr. Levin’s message, two ideas that could actually reduce the amount we spend on getting around:
- Support mass transit options in and between cities. Take some of this federal money the House wants to throw around on the options above, and give it to localities so they can build and maintain rail and bus systems. Then find a way to get commuters to see that they work.
- Convince citizens to use less gasoline. Yes, I remember what a downer it was when President Carter advocated this in the late 1970s. And I’m not talking about cutting the highway speed limit back to 55 mph again. But there are things we can do without any help from the government at all. Walk. Carpool. Bike. Use the existing transit systems. Organize errands so the driving is efficient. Telecommute. I mean, we have the Internet now, which we didn’t have in 1977— we can accomplish a lot without even leaving home.
- Oh, here’s a third one: Somehow provide incentives that keep residential and commercial development from spreading out into the hinterlands. Make it worthwhile for businesses and people to stay closer to city centers, where the infrastructure already exists and people don’t have to drive 50 miles just to get to work.
The proposals in Levin’s e-mail rise out of the hope that we can go back to ridiculously inexpensive gasoline. That’s understandable; we’ve built our life on it. But it’s unsustainable, and as long as we keep clinging to our old gasoline-based transportation model, we’ll soon be going nowhere.