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May 25, 2007

A National Energy Policy Void

George Wenschhof

Recently, Gov. Martin O'Malley joined the governors of 21 other states who sent a letter to the congressional leadership asking for an investigation of the rise in gasoline prices.

They wonder why, in the wake of record profits in the oil business, additional refineries have not been built to keep pace with consumer demand. They go on to say:" Families and businesses across the nation are straining under these uncontrollable prices."

What is significant in this letter is these governors go on to argue that gasoline "is not a simple 'supply and demand issue' because gasoline is not a simple commodity. It is a basic necessity."

They go on to argue that legislative or regulatory remedies may need to be explored in regard to the refinery issue.

In the United States, in spite of repeated warnings over the years, there continues to be a lack of a substantive national energy policy.

While attending undergraduate school out in Indiana in the early 1970s, I avoided most of the lines at the gas pumps that were primarily occurring on the East and West coasts.

I recall the discussion of the limit of natural oil supplies and the need for everyone to conserve their energy consumption. It was also about this time that recycling became a subject for discussion and today the blue curbside bins are commonplace.

The move by then President Jimmy Carter to reduce the speed limit to 55 miles-per-hour on Interstate highways, although effective in reducing consumption, was a short lived regulation.

Since those days, we as a nation have continued to skirt the real issue of energy consumption and the last decade in particular has seen an increase in sales of low mileage 4-wheel drive trucks.

Our economy has been growing over the years, focused primarily around the individual use of an automobile. Paved road construction has flourished and today these roads are used to transport goods as well as people.

While the rest of the world, Europe and Japan in particular, has been building efficient mass transit systems and building mini-cars, the U.S. has let its railroad system deteriorate and continues to rely on the highway as the major transportation system.

The issue raised by these governors as to the need to regulate the cost of gasoline is one that deserves discussion. Energy consumption at a reasonable cost could be argued is a right of all Americans.

This is another example of the ongoing evolution of the American free-market system and representative democracy that has served our country well over the years.

The recent debacle surrounding major increases of electric rates for consumers in Maryland after the state's General Assembly decided to de-regulate the electric industry has many saying maybe this is an area that needs to have government regulation for everyone has to use electricity. They argue that it should be provided at an affordable rate.

Would gasoline consumption fall within this same argument? Well, maybe; but what is really needed is strong leadership that provides national direction in the area of energy consumption.

For example, individual states adopting auto emissions standards, although noble and well-intentioned have limited effect for they do not provide a national solution to the problem.

Our country needs to transition out of the 20th century into the 21st century. Creating a national energy policy would be a good start at providing reasonable, fair and effective solutions.

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