Priming the pump

Analysis by Chris Graham

“Gas prices – $4, $5, no end in sight, because some in Washington are still saying no to drilling in America, no to independence from foreign oil.

“Who can you thank for rising prices at the pump?” the announcer intones, and then you realize what you were hearing in the background the whole time.

A chant of “Obama! Obama! Obama!”

Which is an interesting way of framing things, considering that the ad’s sponsor, John McCain, was saying recently that our dangerous dependence on foreign oil has been “30 years in the making” – I’ll give you a hint as to who has been on Capitol Hill just short of 30 years, and who, until recently, was himself at the least skeptical that offshore drilling would have any kind of impact on prices at the pump anytime soon.

“The truth is that offshore drilling will not support our energy crisis and will not reduce gas prices anytime soon,” said Frederico Pena, the secretary of energy in the Bill Clinton administration, in a conference call with reporters in Virginia arranged today by the Barack Obama campaign that addressed the McCain campaign ad, “Pump,” that somewhat laughably tries to pin the blame for $4-a-gallon gas on Obama’s documented opposition to offshore drilling.

Even the Bush administration is saying through its Department of Energy that offshore drilling would not lead to substantial production of new oil until 2017 at the earliest, with an impact on prices at the gas pump off into 2030. Which might explain McCain’s previous equivocations on the drilling issue that, significantly, had had him supporting the longstanding federal moratorium on offshore drilling, “but now during a presidential campaign, he has found it convenient to now support it,” Pena pointed out.

Pena said on the call that McCain has failed to be a leader toward finding solutions to reduce our dependence on foreign sources of oil, and has actively opposed increasing our national commitment to the development of alternative energies and even the basics of increasing fuel-efficiency standards for cars and trucks. “Sen. McCain’s track record has actually been one of opposition to all things renewable, investments in clean energy, all of which would be very helpful to begin to get us off of using oil and to begin to become energy-independent,” Pena said.

McCain has also been noticeably silent on the matter of what to do about the manipulation of the oil market by speculators who have been bidding up the price of oil in unregulated offshore markets. Legislation is making its way through the U.S. Senate this week that would put curbs on the ability of speculators to drive up oil prices, a move that analysts say could push gas prices downward 30 percent or more in short order.

While remaining silent on that issue, McCain has stated that he supports a gimmicky proposal to suspend the collection of federal gas taxes in the summer months, which would give the average taxpayer a break of $30 all told, enough to buy them seven or eight gallons of gas – and enough to put a serious dent in federal highway construction funds at the same time.

“The most important point, and this is a point that Sen. McCain simply does not understand, is that oil prices are established on a world market. So even if you produce one more barrel of oil in the United States, the price of that barrel of oil is going to be determined by world markets, not by American consumers, and not by American companies,” Pena said.

I want to give more credit than to say that I think McCain fails to get this basic fact. I say he does, and that he knows full well what he’s doing when he suggests that we simply ramp up domestic oil production as his end-all, be-all solution to the fuel crisis without doing the first thing to address the speculation issue and initiate any kind of substantive discussion of what we need to do as a nation to build a new energy future.

Somebody’s going to make money under that scenario; and they’re going to do so, clearly, at the expense of the rest of us.

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