Ideas related to gasoline prices

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

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About songdogmi

I'm a longhaired almost-hippie stuck in the inner suburbs of a major rust-belt metropolis who's thoughtful, creative, and kind of geeky. In exchange for a paycheck I run around in a cubicle maze most days. When I escape, I play music, hang out in coffee houses, dink around on the computer, take naps, and think I should be off in the woods somewhere. Every once in a while I get in my car and drive far, far away, though I've always come back so far.
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3 Responses to Ideas related to gasoline prices

  1. tastyeagle says:

    All the world’s problems lie in a lack of cheap energy. It all comes back to that. With energy cheap enough, ‘anything’ can be done.

    Nuclear f’ing energy. This time do it right, not the half-assed way Americans have done it till now.

    Research the hell out of electric cars and make them useful and affordable. Then fill them up with electricity generated by nuclear f’ing energy. Let gas cars remain for as long as people want to use them. Eventually demand for gas will decrease as people go electric.

    Need more juice? Research the hell out of solar panels and create solar farms in the desert. You get a lot more energy out of an acre of solar panels where no one wants to live anyway than you get out of an acre of corn that could instead be used to feed ‘real people’.

  2. altivo says:

    Actually, I say that cutting the federal speed limit back to 55 is a damned good idea and I’d vote for it immediately. Most vehicles are still at their greatest efficiency in the 50-55 mph range and start slurping down the gas when you push them higher. And… it would save lives. Fatal accidents are up again, and would be even higher if mandatory seat belts and air bags hadn’t been introduced in the interrim.

    Spending money on better inter and intra-urban transit is also a good idea. Congress should cut spending on roads (which benefit the trucking industry, a powerful lobby to be sure) and start investing again in rail and urban transit systems. This of course means they shut up about their repeated attempts to kill Amtrak or privatize it (same thing) and some of them will have a very hard time doing that.

    One more thing. I remember the “oil shortage” of the mid-70s, vividly. Yes, there were long lines at the pumps, hoarding, and all sorts of strange things going on. However, at that time the so-called shortage was suspect in my opinion. As it happens, in about 1974 I was in Florida and saw something very interesting. Lines of oil tankers were sitting out in the Atlantic, just outside the three mile limit. You could read the names on them with good binoculars. They were just sitting there. Why? They were waiting for prices to rise farther before delivering their cargo. And, even more telling, then as now, in spite of loud belly-aching about how prices had to rise or the oil companies would go bankrupt, even as they were testifying to that in Congress, they were turning in massive record-breaking profit statements.

    I’m not saying that I don’t believe the oil supply is running out. Undoubtedly it is. But the oil companies are using that fact nefariously in order to both leverage higher immediate profits and to gain various political ends that they have always wanted, like the ability to destroy ecological resources without restriction in order to squeeze oil from them, immunity from punishment for toxics dumped into the ecosystem (spills, waste products,) fewer controls on their price-setting abilities, and a wedge to retain control of the energy sources even as they shift in other directions. A prime example of that is the massive amount being spent on the promotion of ethanol from corn, a very inefficient source and a poor long term solution, but one that can win them political support right now from farmers and give them even greater political and economic influence in the short term. (Yes, the US produces huge amounts of corn. But it does so by the heavy application of fertilizers that are manufactured from… ta-da! Crude oil! Does this make sense as a way to cut our dependence on fossil fuels? Hardly. Does it cause the price of both oil and other agricultural products, i.e. food, to increase faster? You bet your paycheck it does.)

  3. bonezman says:

    I could rant for pages on this subject, but that would be redundant and futile. We have solutions to this problem readily at hand. WE NEED TO IMPLEMENT THEM.

    1) Electric conversions should be encouraged where electricity is cheap and clean sourced. With the average converted car getting 125 miles per charge short in town commuting and mommy cars don’t need the range of a gas driven vehicle.

    2) Conversion kits to make existing cars multi fuel and a mandate that all new cars be made multi fuel so E85 can be a choice for all. This will bring both the E85 prices down and lower our dependence on oil. Not to mention the lower emissions E85 represents.

    3) Generator powered electric conversions need to be encouraged. It is more efficient to burn a fuel to create electricity and then drive electric motors than it is to use the same fuel for propulsion. Sometimes as much as 50% more efficient and turbine generators can run on a wide array of fuels since they don’t need the higher torque of petroleum based fuels. Our trains run this way. Why not buses and trucks? Even cars??

    4) Finally, where possible, mass transit needs to be expanded. My brother has noticed an increase of bus riders and the buses are breaking down because of the increased use. We need to replace these buses with clean alt fuel vehicles and add more of them to get more people to ride. If the bus schedule was efficient more people would ride them, but in some parts of the metro it could take several hours or more to make a trip that takes 20-30 minutes in a car. Can’t get people to ride a bus when they loose huge parts of their day to the ride.

    We have solutions in place. No new technology is needed. We just need for companies (many of which will be start ups) to get the boost they need to get these solutions to the consumer at a reasonable price. This will add much needed jobs to the market. Cut transportation costs. Reduce our dependence on oil. And cut greenhouse emissions. A ton of pluses and the cost is minimal compared to the saving and potential returns. We need to foot the bill now for our future. The returns will out weigh the costs sooner then one might think.

    My $0.02…

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