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Risking it all for cheap gas

Democratic Voices

Posted: July 22, 2008 12:59 a.m.
Updated: September 22, 2008 5:02 a.m.
A friend of mine called and asked if I had received a recent Buck McKeon mailer stating that the price of gasoline could drop as low as $2.09 a gallon if only Congress would approve a variety of bills presently co-sponsored by him.

Recognizing that the high cost of fuel is due to a complex web of interrelated facts, both my friend and I were annoyed that McKeon would use taxpayer money to send a missive that is not only opportunistic, but faulty in its conclusions.

Not being one of the targeted voters to receive the optimistic news, I received the flier after my friend scanned and e-mailed it to me.

Although McKeon states that there is "no silver bullet that will lower gas prices," his mailer graphically illustrates that a Republican plan could lower prices by half, while the Democratic initiatives would save us pennies.

Not surprisingly, the miracle solutions involve a series of bills that focus on old arguments and debates.

They include opening up previously off-limit areas to drilling (Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and deep sea coastal drilling), creating "environmentally sensitive" refineries, repealing those pesky fuel blend requirements (think clean fuel and air), repealing current bans on alternative oil resources (oil shale, tar sands), and authorizing federal government loan agreements for coal-to-liquid technology.

Of course, these bills appear to throw some scraps to environmentally concerned constituents.

They include language that offers investment in alternative energy sources and contributions to an alternative energy trust fund acquired from revenue attained through new American leases in the Arctic.

These bills are described with the utmost care to appear environmentally sensitive, yet the reality is that the search for oil is by nature a messy business and the footprints left behind are ugly and often deadly to the fragile ecosystems surrounding them.

Oil exploration may create jobs, but it also disrupts existing industries that are dependent on healthy water and land use. When truth is told, the sobering reality is that oil spills occur, cleanup is technologically impossible in Arctic waters, and the devastation lasts years.

Lawsuits involving the cost of repairing the damage due to the Exxon Valdez oil tanker spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound have been working their way through the courts for years. Only recently has the court ruled in favor of Exxon and dropped part of the financial responsibility initially demanded of the energy giant.

If drilling off our coastal waters or the Arctic Refuge will placate those of us who should know better, Americans will be no smarter than the grasshopper who merrily played his fiddle while the ant worked and planned for the future.

In a society were energy is inexpensive, there is waste. How many of you changed your lifestyle when the electricity bills jumped dramatically during and after the Enron years of price manipulation? Californians will be paying for the deregulation folly (brought to us by both political parties) for years to come.

That being said, many of us have adjusted in a positive manner. Energy-efficient windows, lighting, household appliances and solar panels have become economically and aesthetically appealing. More of us are recognizing the need to be less wasteful with water.

But our choice of transportation is no different. When we faced a fuel embargo in the 1970s, the development and purchase of fuel-efficient cars became the norm. Once OPEC established a cozy relationship with our country and affordable gas was assured, American consumers merrily guzzled away, purchasing not only giant trucks, SUVs and motor homes, but mini-tanks, as well!

For those of you who want to believe that America's last reserves of oil will save the day, wake up to the facts. Oil is a finite resource and no amount of hand-wringing will alter the fact that we have to change the way we live, work and do business.

Europeans have been paying high gas prices for years. They also use public transportation regularly.

Americans have been spoiled with the deceptive impression that our energy-consuming habits are the only way in which we can live convenient, self-fulfilled lives.

Changing our habits is difficult, but not impossible. Where is it written that every member of the family owns a car?

We live in a community that has provided clean and affordable bus service, yet how many of us use it? I am as guilty as the next person, but I am open to changing my driving habits and recognize that the days of low fuel prices are long gone.

If the pursuit of oil desecrates previously protected areas, are we ready to accept the negative environmental consequences that could occur? The oceans are teaming with life, and the Arctic Refuge is home to imperiled polar bears and countless marine animals and migratory birds.

Personally, I'm not willing to risk our environmental health in exchange for a few more years of affordable gas.

The high cost of gasoline affects all of us. Isn't it the responsibility of our leaders to stop playing the blame game, stop deceiving the public regarding alternative oil payloads and work together to change the way we fuel our lives?

Leigh Hart is a Santa Clarita resident. Her column reflects her own views, and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Democratic Voices" appears Tuesdays in The Signal and rotates among several local Democratic activists.


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