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Price hikes for gasoline are nothing but high octane rip-off

By Pete Waldmeir / The Detroit News

It is a rite of spring. Crocuses blossom, high school kids flock to warm-climate beaches and gasoline prices go through the roof. Alas, hapless citizens have some kind of control over the former two events. We always can step on the flowers and cancel the kids' charge accounts. The latter phenomenon, however, is in the hands of a much more potent power: Big Oil. The big shots like to tell you that $2-a-gallon gas prices are the fault of pesky environmental restraints, a complicated refinery and distribution system, even air quality controls. But as a guy who has to choke back a scream each time the gas pump numbers hit $25 or more on a fill-up, I have serious doubts about all that. Regrettably, the gouging of consumers that happens year after year when we are most vulnerable -- in the fall months when cold weather arrives and heating oil stocks hit peak demand and again in the traffic-heavy, good weather driving season, when motor vehicle usage reaches its annual apex -- doesn't seem to bother the producers and their pals in Congress and the White House. Oil company apologists insist that politics has nothing to do with the sudden spurts of big profits. But this is no bipartisan crisis. Sure, fuel costs got out of hand a few times during Bill Clinton's reign in the White House. But at least Democrat Clinton made an attempt to use the power of his bully pulpit to try to keep things somewhat under control by jawboning his balky Republican-dominated, pro-business legislators to lean on Big Oil to ease up. Don't look for similar help in that regard from President Bush or, for that matter, from our fledgling energy secretary, former Michigan Sen. Spence Abraham.

About all they've done so far to combat skyrocketing pump prices is roll their eyes, wring their hands and wimpishly try to shift the blame to foreign oil producers, refiners, even lowly gas station operators -- anybody who doesn't have to face a U.S. voter in the next 12 months. It's a rip-off, plain and simple. Sure, it's supply and demand. They limit the supply to increase the demand. And as the demand goes up, so do the prices. They're smart. They know they can't do it all year long and get away with it because not even the White House could protect them from the mob action if they did. So they pick their shots ... sudden bursts of cold in the fall, sudden bursts of free driving time in the spring and early summer. And there's another significant factor. Big Oil's tired of relying on the price-fixing whims of the Middle East OPEC suppliers. They'd love to increase drilling in Alaska and even add the Great Lakes. Hey, with a wink and a nod from Washington, they'd be boring in the Grand Canyon.

What better way for oilman Bush to help his pals than to create a profitable energy crisis and at the same time underscore the nation's "critical need" for more and more drilling -- in places like our national parks and elsewhere?

Pete Waldmeir's column appears Sunday, Monday, Wednesday and Friday in The Detroit News. Call him at (313) 222-2345 or send e-mail to

-- Martin Thompson (, May 11, 2001


Geesh, what a propaganda piece. This guy knows about as much about energy economics as Jack the Ripper knew about the Golden Rule.

-- Billiver (, May 11, 2001.

The real problem is the lack of refining capacity. If the Oil companies won't build more refineries maybe the government (as a capitalist I want to barf suggesting this) should do it for them via a hefty tax. Blame may also lie with the environmentalists and neighborhoods that "just say no" to refineries being "built in their backyard".

-- Steve Mcclendon (, May 11, 2001.

Just posting another view. It is no wonder the public is so confused over this issue with articles like this.

-- Martin Thompson (, May 11, 2001.

1. Bush is definitely using the "crisis" to drill for fossil fuels in places that currently are not being drilled.

2. It will be fascinating to see the public reaction after we are on the down side of the global peak in petroleum extraction sometime in the next few years. $2 / gallon will look cheap then.

-- mark (, May 13, 2001.

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