Paying enough for gas? I don’t think so

Letter to the Editor

  • Friday, October 3, 2008 2:52am
  • Opinion

Carpooling with Bill Goodwin to work in Washington, D.C. was a learning experience 40 years ago. Bill was a professor with a specialty in transportation systems who had been lured to the capital to provide advice on reducing the nation’s gridlock. He would drive any distance to avoid our shortest route via Shirley Highway, which he termed “the world’s longest driveway.”

Bill would rant about the gallons of finite fossil fuel being needlessly burned and the health dangers posed by carbon monoxide fumes being inhaled by commuters. His primary solution was mass transit systems and the construction of bypass beltway highways financed by taxes on gas and highway tolls at all levels of government jurisdictions. He raved about nobody listening. He soon returned to the University of Tennessee to buy a home three blocks from the campus. Years later, those taxes were paid, in part by us, to bless our nation’s capital with perhaps the finest mass transit/commuter highway system in the world.

Four years ago, I participated in “The Race To Stop Global Warming” in downtown Seattle. Part of the route was down an Interstate-5 commuter lane with signs en route informing us of the gross amounts of carbon monoxide we were breathing in and the tonnage of carbon dioxide being exhausted by the traffic going by on either side. At the start/finish were brochures describing the ravages of higher respiratory disease rates in metropolitan environments, the contribution of fossil fuel use in cars to global warming and dire predictions of the future if globally, humankind did not soon recognize the danger in this addiction.

The United States was duly noted as the primary culprit. Information was available touting the potential of alternative fuels along with the recognition that nothing much was going to happen as long as gas was so cheap and available. An early Toyota Prius was on display, but no tax incentives to buy it or any other low-mileage vehicle had been enacted. The subsidized buys were gas-guzzling SUVs, tax advantaged through qualification as pickup trucks. I returned home fired up to send a few messages to local representatives, but can recall no response promising any action.

Looking back, I think gas prices have been artificially low at least since the days of commuting with Bill Goodwin. As I write, government is still indulging our thirst for too-cheap gas at the pump by subsidies to the oil companies in the form of tax breaks for exploration, permission to drill on public lands and in controlled waters and various other forms of favorable response to the industry’s powerful lobbying interests. All of this should be eliminated or taken back as taxes on the industry, even if it raises prices at the pump.

Second, current prices totally fail to reflect the inestimable worth of oil as a nonrenewable resource that will be needed in the production of products for which no practical alternative has been found. The value of what’s left of oil reserves should be assessed for investment in the development of alternative energy sources. If we don’t, perhaps just one or two generations from now when the world is running out of oil at $1,000-$5,000 a barrel to manufacture polymers for plastics and other products, the nation’s grandchildren will think we were the worst generation for our wasteful dissipation of this resource.

Third, current prices completely ignore the environmental cost of gas consumption in the form of air, water and land pollution; not to mention the contribution to global warming.

When all these costs are factored into the price at the pump, we’ll have gas priced right. It would also be priced high enough so people would find ways to drive less miles and the auto industry would be featuring snazzy hybrids and alternative fuel cars.

An impossible dream? I don’t think so. The Norwegians are paying gas prices triple the cost here while enjoying one of the highest standards of living in the world. All that’s lacking here is vision and leadership.

Dave Olson

North Bend

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