Nothing concentrates the attention of the United States like high gas prices. Witness these excerpts from various CNN segments over the last 24 hours (all thanks to the Congressional Quarterly).
First, Wolf Blitzer and correspondent Mary Snow on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to make every New York taxi driver drive a hybrid. Included is an interview with one cabbie already on the bandwagon:
GULZAR CHOUDRY, CAB DRIVER: I used to drive a regular car before. And I used to put like $35 to $40 of gas every day. Now I am putting like $12 to $15 every day.
SNOW: Choudry says he had to shell out $10,000 extra to buy a hybrid, but he says he's making back the money by saving about $1,000 a month in gas...
Next up, Lou Dobbs brings in a couple of Democratic House representatives highly dissatisfied with the recent trade deal agreed to by the Democratic leadership and the White House, Ohio's Marcy Kaptur and California's Brad Sherman.
KAPTUR: I think its important that Democrats across this country and Republicans across this country and Independents across this country know that trade is not working for America. It is not working for the middle class, we continue to see more outsourced jobs. If you look at the oil industry, there is a global industry for you. Look what's happening to gas prices in this country. We are not in charge of our own future. We have to speak out and get trade agreements here that give us a new model for trade and stop outsourcing our jobs.
Finally, this morning, CNN's Newsroom gave the platform to Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., currently on the warpath against the oil companies along with Chuck Schumer.
HARRIS: All right, a basic question -- are gas prices artificially high right now?
WYDEN: That's one factor. But the reality is worldwide demand is up. OPEC has reduced the production of oil. But, yes, American oil companies have contributed to those problems by under investing in refinery capacity.
Essentially, the American oil companies have created a situation where heads they win and tails the consumer loses, when they don't invest in refining capacity, and that's been the problem for a number of years. Supply is tight, prices go up... the Senate is involved in looking at the billions of dollars of tax breaks that the oil companies get. I want to condition those tax breaks for the major oil companies for them upkeeping their refinery capacity and building new refineries. That's something that could help the consumer change behavior. It wouldn't mean they'd make big profits, but the public would benefit.
(UPDATE: Congressional Quarterly apparently made a transcription error: See note below)
Let's try to ignore for a second Wyden's bizarre conclusion that expanded refinery capacity is "something that could help the consumer change behavior." Lower gas prices as a result of increased refinery capacity would, of course, have the opposite effect, by encouraging consumers to continue happily along with their gas-guzzling ways. But never mind that.
Using high gas prices to bash oil companies or globalization makes for fine political point-scoring. But Michael Bloomberg's strategy is to tackle root causes -- enacting policy measures that will actually decrease consumption of gasoline, not to mention make a small stab at combatting global warming.
Mandating refinery expansion or putting in place new trade barriers will not put us in "charge of our own future" -- at least not insofar as gas prices are concerned -- it will just prolong the day of reckoning a little further. What we need is forceful government action on energy efficiency, conservation and the deployment of renewable energy technologies. And so we turn the floor over to Wolf:
BLITZER: What does it say, Mr. Mayor, when a mayor like you or a governor like Arnold Schwarzenegger, that you have to make these kinds of decisions within your own communities, as opposed to the federal government making these kinds of decisions that could impact global warming, the environment? What does it say to you as a politician?
BLOOMBERG: I think what you're seeing is that at the local level, the people and their representatives are tired of the inaction in Washington. And we're just not going to wait around any more for Washington to try to do something about the air we breathe or about stopping global warming.
UPDATE: A note from Jennifer Hoelzer, press secretary for Senator Wyden.
Senator Wyden saw your column and came to me a little confused with where you got your quote. He didn't remember saying as you quote him: "That's something that could help the consumer change behavior." I didn't remember him saying it on CNN either, so I played back the tape from this morning. I then consulted the Nexis transcript. You quote the transcript correctly. Unfortunately the transcript did not quote my boss correctly. What Senator Wyden actually said was: "That's something that could help the consumer AND change behavior." If you look at the next sentence: "It wouldn't mean they'd make big profits, but the public would benefit," you can see that he was saying it would help change the behavior of oil companies not consumers. Anyway, I know it's not your mistake, it was transcribed wrong (I'm not sure how to get that fixed.) But its visible from the tape and I thought I would bring it to your attention.