In America, we want our gasoline cheap : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

In America, we want our gasoline cheap By DAVID FELTS, Daily News editor May 24, 2001 If there's one thing that Americans - or at least American motorists - see as a birthright it's a cheap and plentiful supply of gasoline at the pump.

Politicians must view it as an especially chilling development when prices start inching up - or shooting up - at the pump. Because, as I said, we Americans want our gasoline plentiful and cheap and the politicians are the first ones blamed.

As the first holiday of what's called the summer driving season begins, gasoline may be plentiful, but it's not particularly cheap and isn't likely to get any cheaper. The decline this week, of a single penny, in the nationwide average for regular gasoline, was the occasion for much rejoicing by people who care about these things, chief among them the politicians.

The trouble for politicians is simple. When gasoline prices soar, the motoring public wants relief ... right now. But it's not that simple because there is little the politicos can do to ease the suffering and even less that they are willing to do.

Crude oil isn't in short supply, nor is gasoline in general, though certain environmental-friendly mixtures demanded by some states, are tight. While the limited capacity of refineries is usually blamed for causing a short supply - whether it exists or not, it seems more likely to me that someone up the line is taking advantage of the situation. What could be more American than making a profit on a supposed shortage?

This brings us back to the politicians. They cannot increase the flow from the refineries in say, two weeks time. They cannot force oil companies to do much of anything (it's a free country, more or less). They cannot influence the price at the pump, except in one way - by lowering the state or federal tax on gasoline. Basically, they're pretty much helpless, which is a position they dislike. Or at least they dislike a public perception that they're helpless.

So we get lots of hollering about our dependence on foreign oil (which has nothing to do with this) demanding that drilling for oil be allowed arctic wildlife preserve (a bad idea), and crying for stern investigations into oil company profits ( a fun idea, but it won't help). We also hear politicians offering lots of cheap schemes to slash the gasoline tax, usually in a very temporary and meaningless way.

We could get some relief at the gasoline pump, of course, if the state and federal politicians decided on a moratorium on the motor fuel tax for, say, the "summer driving season." Trouble is, that money is what goes to fix the roads and build bridges. So it's risky to pull off the tax very long, unless an alternate source of road funding can be found. It's not a pleasant thing to consider if you are, say, Gov. John Engler or President George W. Bush.

Few grab the public's attention like gasoline prices. It's like the weather, everybody talks about it. People bemoan any increase, and crow with satisfaction every time it drops - even by a penny. To a man and a woman, in this country, almost everyone is convinced that we are victims of the oil companies or the government or some unholy combination of the two.

It's because of this wide interest that The Daily News runs a gasoline survey every Friday that gives the area's average price and the pump price at a number of service stations.

Personally, I could care less. I regard gasoline prices as a fact of life and the need for gasoline a necessary evil. I drive a four-wheel drive SUV that guzzles premium fuel like an elephant taking a drink on a hot, sunny day. It's a fact of life. I just pay it and go on. Thank goodness I can afford it. I'm grateful, moreover, that we're not living in some place like Europe or Japan where cheap gasoline is not a birthright and where the per-gallon price averages more than $4.

Besides, high gasoline prices are also like the weather in the same respect that Mark Twain noted long ago: "Everybody talks about it, but nobody ever does anything about it."

Happy motoring!

-- Martin Thompson (, May 26, 2001

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