Daniel Howes: Prices we pay for gas drive behavior
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
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
Never hire a Ferret to do a Weasel's job