Politicians are embarrassing

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 29, 2006

I was truly embarrassed for our elected leaders in Washington, D.C. this week.

The spectacle they made of themselves in their effort to appear as though they were working diligently to solve this latest crisis at the gas pumps was comical at best.

Watching President Bush, a former oil man (albeit an unsuccessful one from most accounts), attempt to sound sincere as he talked about fuel cells and ethanol was painful.

Watching the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.), lumber from his SUV to talk about conservation was just pathetic.

As members of the Senate and the House pretended to walk from Capitol Hill to a nearby park to blast the oil companies and present their legislative fixes, television crews caught them as they climbed back into their gas-guzzling SUVs and luxury cars.

The high gas prices have created a whirlwind of fury across the country and politicians are running scared. Politicians who fought increases in the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAF…) of automobiles sold in the U.S. for years are suddenly conservationists. President Bush, who once scoffed at the idea of Americans conserving energy, driving fuel efficient cars and any mention of global warming, is suddenly the face of alternative energy.

Unfortunately, the time to lead on this issue was years ago and those jumping on the bandwagon now have no place in Washington. The politicians who fought efforts to push for alternative and renewable energy in the past, while providing tax breaks for big oil, need to be sent home.

These so-called leaders, just about every Republican and many Democrats, allowed several large, vertically integrated oil companies to merge over the last eight years. The mergers of Exxon and Mobil, Chevron and Texaco and Conoco and Phillips placed the control of the oil market in too few hands and resulted in uncompetitive gasoline markets. Large oil companies easily control domestic gasoline prices by exploiting their ever-greater market share, keeping prices artificially high long enough to rake in easy profits.

Is it any surprise these top companies are enjoying record profits?

Why haven’t the politicians cracked down on these corporations? As of 2004, the oil and gas industry had contributed more than $67 million to federal politicians since 1999. In addition, the oil industry spends an additional $50 million every year lobbying Congress and the White House.

However, the ultimate blame falls on us. We have a created a system where we are completely dependent on our automobiles. We prefer driving over walking and the suburbs and strip malls over living in more densely populated, walker friendly communities. We prefer big cars over smaller, more fuel efficient vehicles. We prefer plastic (a petroleum by-product) over paper (or heaven forbid reusable bags).

How many of us have demanded that our houses or apartments have solar panels?

We want the oil, but we refuse to drill in our own backyards, whether it is in the Arctic National Refuge or off the coast of North Carolina and we continue to elect politicians who do nothing to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels, but instead allow massive mergers of oil corporations.

None of this makes us bad people, lazy and uninformed perhaps, but as the saying goes, we made our bed; now we have to sleep in it.

The oil companies have us exactly where they want us and they are going to bleed every penny out of us and who can blame them. Sure these guys are modern day robber barons, but that is the way capitalism works.

Maybe we should all join the group outside of Washington, D.C that decided to pray for lower gas prices on Thursday. I won’t speculate on the effectiveness of the act, but it can’t be any more futile than waiting on politicians to provide some relief.