As we gassed up the War Room fleet this weekend, we finally found ourselves with at least a little insight into the thinking of George W. Bush: With gas setting us back 'round about three bucks a gallon, we understand now why the president likes to ride his bike.
There's no one answer for why gasoline prices have climbed so high. As the Boston Globe explains, "one political and market shock after another has kept the crude-oil market high and volatile" for a year. On Monday, it was an electrical blackout, probably caused by insurgents, that cut the flow of oil from Iraq. Today, it's fear of a hurricane that could disrupt supplies from the Gulf of Mexico. Tomorrow, it will surely be something else. Gas prices have gone up 39 percent over the course of the year, and they're not going down soon. "Gas prices will certainly not drop before Labor Day," a spokesman for the American Automobile Association tells the Globe. "In fact, they may increase more."
With gas prices cutting into profits for retailers and making it harder for everyday Americans to provide for their families, you might expect that the president of the United States would be poised to take some significant steps to reduce the cost of filling up. Instead, the Bush administration has just unveiled its plan to weaken the already leaky Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards.
Under existing law, automakers' light truck fleets are required to get an average of 21 miles per gallon. Under the new Bush plan, the light truck category will be broken down into six subgroups, each with its own fuel economy requirement. That means that automakers will be free to continue to build massive, gas-guzzling SUVs without having to worry about offsetting their thirst for fuel by offering more sensibly sized minivans and smaller trucks.
What standards will SUVs have to meet? Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta couldn't or wouldn't say at a press conference today. One clue that they won't be particularly demanding: The Big Three automakers are enthusiastic about the Bush administration's plan. Another clue: Super-sized SUVs like the Hummer H2 will be excluded from the fuel economy standards altogether.
It all may be a moot point, of course. If prices continue to climb at their current 39 percent a year pace, gas will cost about $18 a gallon by the time the Bush proposal takes full effect in 2011. We'll all be riding bikes then.