Monday, May 01, 2006

R. V. Winkle, wake up!

Summer driving season is dawning, so, as we start opening our eyes to it, the ugly “G” word -- “gouging” -- is making the rounds again about gas prices. Yes, those sadistic petroleum companies have once again decided to bilk the American public of their hard-earned money and rake in the profits. By golly, at last report, the top three petroleum companies (Exxon Mobil, Chevron, and Conoco Phillips) raked in an average of a walloping 9.8 cents profit out of each gallon of gas they sold. Gee whiz, that’s just over a three percent profit rate... good enough to make me reconsider the business I’m in (writing is notoriously well-paying, as professions go, right? Heh). Of course, when I was managing a store, if we had done anything under 15% profit margin, the corporate head honchos would have suggested closing down the shop -- or, at least looking for new, more motivated staff to try to bring our numbers up.

Naturally, since the oil companies have been just oozing cash out their pores, Congress and various state legislatures have been discussing how to cut that down to an acceptable loss instead of an uncomfortably lean profit margin. Their solution is to jack up the amount each petroleum company pays on its scant profits -- lawmakers seem to like it when there’s an unseized tax to be had. They’re already taking in more than five times as much as the oil companies are, on each gallon of gasoline you pump into your car (national average is 49 cents per gallon, plus the local and municipal taxes, which add twelve cents more per gallon in Chicago than in Kewanee). What’s another nickel or two going to hurt? Besides, once they tax the heck out of Exxon, and Exxon, in turn, raises the price of gas again to make up the difference, Congress can turn around and redistribute the cash to the little people who made it all possible -- the Green lobby.

Yes, that’s right. Those people who keep carping about how we need alternative fuels, how we ought to all be driving hybrids, hydrogen powered cars, or horse-and-buggy are the same people who refuse to allow expansion of hydroelectric plants, who foam at the mouth over the possibility that we construct new nuclear energy plants, who block construction of other alternative fuel plants and research facilities, who prevent drilling an acre in Alaska because it might spoil the pristine view of millions of acres of ice, mud and moss. These people and their allies have guaranteed that our purses are held hostage by the capricious leaders (to put it politely) of countries like Iran, Bolivia and Venezuela. And because we as a nation haven’t been allowed to develop alternate industrial energy sources, we private citizens compete with factories for said fuel. We are paying for the tree-huggers’ sins, and we will continue to pay, until our elected officials get off their kiesters and start acting like leaders instead of money-launderers and hypocrites.

But the eco-wackos aren’t the only guilty parties. Enough of the rest of us fools fed into the gas-guzzling culture the US auto makers built, when we stopped buying practical cars and started driving monster RVs, SUVs and faddish conversion wagons with semi-demi-hemi-humungous engines. Even the more pocketbook-conscious among us tolerated small and mid-sized cars with gas mileage of less than 30 mpg, when we know the technology is out there to make safe, dependable, attractive family cars which can easily get twice that.

Of course, even if we were to demand better cars from Detroit, even were we to allow the petroleum companies to actually earn a profit and put it into research and development, even if we were to allow drilling up in Alaska, we will still continue to pay high prices at the pump for a few more years, because we’ve been asleep at the wheel for so long. Thirty years without a new refinery in this country, a roughly equal amount of time since a new nuclear power plant was started, politicians and media idols blowing years of hot air blocking wind farms, and generations of accepting shoddy, gas-guzzling junkers out of Detroit have left us bound up in our Rip Van Winkle beards. It will take a little time to work our hands free and find a good enough razor to get ourselves moving smoothly again -- and that’s only if we have a genuine inclination to shave all that tangle away.

Recommended reading:
Max Boot: Filling tanks, funding dictators
AP - Bolivia Military Told to Occupy Gas Fields
Jack Kemp: Energy debates lead to wrong answers
Michael Reagan: Fill 'Er Up with Demagoguery

1 comment:

SquarePeg said...

I think we should commend our domestic oil companies for keeping their profit margins at 3% vs. 15%. I can't even imagine how much gas would cost if they didn't! I would rather see our government focus their energy on developing a sensible energy policy vs. imposing more taxes on the American people.