fresh voices from the front lines of change







Gas prices. By Greg Woodhouse (Flickr/CC)Another Memorial Day, another stressful spike in gasoline prices.

With most Americans denied access to convenient mass transit options and affordable alternative fuels, we'll be forced to pay through the nose yet again if we want to travel simply to see friends and family this holiday weekend.

Beyond this weekend, the average American household will pay more than $2,300 on gas in 2008 than they did in 2001, taking inflation into account. That's enough to give you road rage before you even get into the car.

Undoubtedly, we'll hear more of the usual explanations for why gas prices have gotten so out of hand. Supply and demand, of course. Growing economies in China and India mean more demand, while supply is drying up and production being restricted.

True enough, but it's not exactly a surprise that the laws of supply and demand were going to make oil more expensive over time. The proper question is: What did the conservatives who have run Washington the past seven years do to deal with reality?


For seven years, the Bush policies have utterly failed to protect our nation's energy security.

President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney started off their first term drafting an energy policy with a secret task force that regularly met with oil company CEOs and produced what one newspaper account called "a wish list of subsidies and giveaways to oil, gas, and coal producers who made hefty campaign contributions to the Bush-Cheney Team."

Surprise. Doling out billions in handouts to Big Oil didn't lower gas prices. (Though it did help triple their profits!)

Then, every time voters cried out for help with high energy costs, Bush whined that we aren't drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. But there's so little oil there, according to the Energy Department, it would only lower crude oil prices 50 cents a barrel, in 2025. That's literally a drop in the bucket. Crude oil prices have jumped more than $90 $100, now at $130 a barrel, since Bush took office.

Bush invaded Iraq, which senators like John McCain and Larry Craig have admitted was, at least in part, about securing oil supplies. But the global unrest sparked by the occupation, along with the continued saber-rattling with Iran, has prompted speculators to jack up prices further.

Meanwhile, conservatives controlled Congress and the White House through 2006 and did nothing to make renewable fuels and fuel-efficient cars widely affordable and accessible, so we wouldn't be at the mercy of Big Oil.

Voters fired that Congress and replaced it with new leaders who pledged to do something to increase the supply of clean energy. But Bush and his fellow conservatives persisted in protecting their failed energy policy.

By a single vote, the conservative minority in the Senate filibustered legislation to strip Big Oil's tax subsidies and use the revenue to invest in renewable energy—a vote that McCain skipped. Conservatives also filibustered a bill to reduce fossil fuel use by mandating that 15 percent of our electricity come from renewable sources.

After doing nothing about fuel efficiency for six years, Bush sought to give himself some green sheen by signing a bill from the new Congress mildly raising fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks. But the very next day, he blocked efforts from 18 states to implement strong emissions standards for vehicles, which also helps with fuel efficiency. And this week we learned that Environmental Protection Agency officials knew striking down the state rules violated the Clean Air Act and a recent Supreme Court ruling. But Bush pressured the EPA chief to risk breaking the law in his years-long quest to do nothing good on energy.

So as you're paying $70 just to fill up your tank this weekend, know that things could have been different. We knew we had a problem. We could have been reducing our consumption of oil. We could have been making renewable energy accessible and affordable.

But Bush, his conservative allies did nothing except maintain billions in handouts to their Big Oil backers while their profits went through the roof, as did our gas bills.

It's enough to give you road rage, but save the rage for November.

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