Daniel Howes: Prices we pay for gas drive behavior

Daniel Howes: Prices we pay for gas drive behavior http://www.detnews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20070122/AUTO02/701220338/1148/AUTO01
W e Americans can have the collective attention span of 4-year-olds -- we
want what we want when we want it and complain loudly when we don't get it.
So last spring and summer, when gas prices were going through the roof and Big Oil was basically synonymous with Terrorism Inc., politicians-cum-nannies fell all over themselves trying to soothe the whining because we're entitled to cheap gas, right? (Even if we aren't.)
Right on cue, Gov. Jennifer Granholm led an election-year petition drive to cap oil company profits. Sen. Debbie Stabenow called for revoking tax breaks for Big Oil. President Bush lamented our "addiction" to the black gold even as he eased environmental restrictions on fuel and suspended deposits in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
Higher gas tax in future?
Now, gas has slipped below $2 a gallon in Michigan. Crude oil prices are slumping and global oil consumption, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, last year declined for the first time in 20 years -- and it didn't take European-style fuel taxes or draconian legislation to get us there.
What it took was simply a rational reaction to rising prices: When fuel gets too expensive, business and consumers buy less of it. Which is why the quickest, if not the wisest, way to cut fuel consumption and change behavior would be to sharply raise fuel taxes.
It wouldn't be popular in most places or here in Detroit, where selling big SUVs and pickups still matters mightily to preventing erosion to the bottom line. Nor would it enhance the chances for Democrats to retain control of Congress in '08 or regain the White House.
But it would work.
The energy price slide probably isn't what Congressional Democrats or their friends in the environmental lobby want to see right now. It'd be easier to talk gas taxes or demonize Big Oil, Big Auto and even Toyota's gas-guzzlers in upcoming global warming hearings if gas hovered between $3 or $4 a gallon and American dollars were swelling the petro-coffers of Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia.
Be green, or pay dearly
Which isn't to say the hearings shouldn't take place. They should, because business today knows customers may not pay you to be green but they'll punish you if you aren't.
Even our allegedly retrograde auto companies here in Detroit understand that the days of arguing the premise of a) global warming and b) fuel conservation and c) alternative powertrains and renewable fuels are pretty much long gone.
What domestic politics, pressure tactics and business strategy haven't necessitated, the volatile Middle East, gyrating oil prices, the success of gas-electric hybrid vehicles and common sense have. This isn't your father's world.
-- Never hire a Ferret to do a Weasel's job
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