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Gas prices aren't high enough

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Thursday, June 01, 2006

s_RobinMany are mourning that gas hit $3 a gallon, but I’m rooting for it to reach European prices...say around $6 a gallon. That might be painful enough to get Scary Big SUV beside me on the road to dump the gas monster. It might hurt enough to get gutless political weasels to line up behind clean-energy policies. Maybe it would be enough to make us 12-step our way out of our infamous addiction to oil.

We kick our addictions only when we really, really have to. Paying $3 a gallon will break a few minor bad habits, but it isn’t going to turn a Big Oil politico into an action hero or cure my driving jones. And don’t try to slip me a $100 bill in the meantime; it isn’t nearly enough to subsidize my own hypocritically low-mileage pickup.

I know we don’t have the compact cities, the public transportation or the will (and necessity) to use our own two feet like the Europeans. But faced with sustained higher gas prices, we would find ways to reduce our dependency on oil because we would have no choice. It would force change in all of us: consumer, politician, business owner, investor.

If oil is never again cheap — and that’s what many analysts are now predicting, telling us we’ll never see $2 a gallon for gas again — it will be economically smart for investors to make long-term bets in alternative and renewable energy. Voters will force those they elect to develop alternative fuel sources, build more public transportation, create less sprawl. When we can’t afford oil, we’ll become passionate about conserving it. I see a whole line of Jimmy Carter oil-shortage sweaters.

I might get my wish sooner than I want as the summer begins with several dubious achievements already reached.

First, there is peak oil. That long-debated and fearfully anticipated moment when expected world oil output falls short of global demand finally arrived earlier this year, according to some oil watchers.

We’ve also reached peak self-delusion. As of May, there were only 22 businesses in all of Oregon that were participating in the state transit pass program, for which they receive a business tax credit. According to AAA, Oregonians are not driving any less because of the recent rising prices, a fact that mirrors the rest of the country. And, as our clean-energy cover story this issue points out, Oregon seriously lags behind many other states in clean-energy progress. We aren’t living up to our own hype as green do-gooders.

Lastly, we can’t forget our old friend, peak self-interest, which so aptly characterizes the last legislative session.

But let’s imagine a better future in which business, environmental and government leaders find common ground for the good of the state and adopt in the upcoming legislative session mandates that make Oregon an energy leader instead of a laggard.

Gov. Ted Kulongoski has put forth an energy platform that calls for renewable resources to meet 25% of Oregon’s energy needs by 2025. It includes incentives for energy developers to invest in renewables, supports the development of biofuels and recommends new state tax credits to encourage investment in the energy sector.

If legislators from either party or the myriad special interests don’t like Kulongoski, his energy platform or the hybrid he rode in on, then they need to bring forward their own ideas, because doing nothing to support alternative energy is unacceptable. Legislators and lobbyists need to lead, follow or pull their oil-dependent vehicles over to the side of the road.

Let’s stop fooling ourselves. High fuel prices are here to stay. There will be no last-minute rescue by an action hero driving a Hummer.

— Robin Doussard
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