- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 13, 2000

A gallon of regular unleaded is now well above $1.50 at most service stations higher than the cost of premium just a few months ago. Premium, meanwhile, is now within a tick of reaching $2 per gallon the highest level, adjusted for inflation, since the Gulf War a decade ago. It is clear that, OPEC promises of a minor 3 percent boost in output notwithstanding, the country may be facing an imminent energy crisis that could, ultimately, affect the current economic boom. U.S. reserves are at all-time lows and industry analysts warn that an unusually severe winter, should that happen, could result in demand outpacing supply leading to shortages and explosive price increases in both gasoline and fuel oil, which is used to heat homes. Natural gas prices, meanwhile, are expected to boom 30-50 percent this winter as well.
And yet, a strange complacence has settled over the landscape, with only a smattering of media reports covering the issue and fewer still placing at least part of the blame squarely where it belongs: in the lap of the Clinton administration. Even the president's own energy secretary, Bill Richardson, admitted on Monday that OPEC's promise to increase production may not do very much to ward off the potentially various consequences for the U.S. economy.
OPEC ministers will meet again Nov. 12 to "review" the effects of the 3 percent increase, and perhaps commit to a further increase of 500,000 barrels per day if prices have not stabilized. But industry analysts caution that it may already be too late for these relatively minor fiddlings to affect appreciably the situation. But there are steps that could be taken that could greatly ease what threatens to be a rather unpleasant and costly winter.
* First, there is no sound environmental reason why the green light should not be given to increasing domestic production. There are sizeable petroleum reserves under U.S. control off the Pacific coastal shelf and in the Alaska National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR). Oil extraction techniques have improved considerably over the past decades, and there is little objective reason why we should leave all that oil sitting uselessly in the ground. It can be drawn from the earth without danger to the surrounding flora and fauna despite the scare-mongering of radical environmentalist groups, who would rather see the economy crippled than permit the American people to have access to affordable energy.
* Second, motor fuels taxes need to be lowered. They now account for between 50 and 75 cents per gallon. The government ought to return at least a portion of that money to the people who earned it.
* Finally, it's time we explained to OPEC that we will not tolerate their price-gouging. We have a Justice Department that obsesses about "dangerous monopolies" such as Microsoft, but which seems quite content to let OPEC have its way with the American consumer. And please, let's not hear any nonsense about OPEC being outside U.S. jurisdiction and thus not subject to American pressure. What is more important to U.S. national security than a predictable, secure energy supply? Saudi Arabia's assistance in securing OPEC's promise of the 3 percent production increase is to be commended. But the fact is the United States guarantor of the very existence of both Saudi Arabia and Kuwait deserves more than this token consideration. If not, then perhaps next time Saddam gets interested in "lebensraum," U.S. policy will be a bit more insouciant as well.

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