If gas prices are too high, find an alternative

Erik Hoversten

As I’m sure you all have noticed, gas prices have surged from $1.25 per gallon in December, to $1.50 currently. If you were looking for relief, you should practice spelling “Rolaids” because the Department of Energy is projecting prices of up to $1.80 this summer.

These are fighting words to many Americans who commute to work or are involved with shipping things. For all you foreign students new to the United States, there are three things you shouldn’t mess with here: guns, Jesus and gas prices, in that order.

So the question becomes, “What is the president doing to help the situation?” It turns out to be a pleasant surprise. Contrary to his trend of following public opinion, Wild Bill is demonstrating restraint in handling this matter, which brings out the worst in Americans.

Of course, the problem hinges on the fact that the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is restricting oil production, perhaps driving oil prices up to make our election season a little more exciting.

When asked what his plan is for reducing gas prices, George W. Bush said, “We’ve got to make OPEC produce more oil.” Well, go to the head of the class, W. He didn’t mention how because he doesn’t know. New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, GOP candidate for the New York Senate seat, said we should try to convince Kuwait and Saudi Arabia to “break up the illegal cartel,” referring to OPEC.

If I had 10 million barrels of crude oil, I’d probably be violating the terms of my lease, but no one could force me to sell it. The same goes for OPEC.

Why wouldn’t they control the oil market? Wouldn’t you want to get the most money you could for a non-renewable resource? It’s about as American as you can get.

So to help W. finish answering his question, you have to go into brown-noser mode. This is precisely what I thought the Clinton administration was doing last week when they decided to end imports on Iranian-made Persian rugs, reduce tariffs on Iranian caviar and pistachios, and move to unfreeze billions of dollars of Iranian assets in the United States. Then I found a March 18 Agence France-Presse article.

It turns out that it was also Washington’s first policy response to landslide victories by reformers in last month’s elections. The United States did not go so far as to get rid of the long-standing oil embargo on Iran’s oil and gas industry that accounts for 85 percent of Iran’s hard-currency income.

This, in addition to the end of accusations of state terrorism, would be required to completely mend ties.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright conceded past policy errors, such as supporting a 1953 coup that restored Shah Mohammed Riza Pahlevi to power, and backing Iraq during the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s.

Iran’s ambassador to the U.N., Hadi Nejad Hosseinian, said Tehran will give a “positive and appropriate response, but not all members of Iran’s government were impressed. Hassan Rouhani, the head of Iran’s top security agency, called Albright’s statement “repugnant and unacceptable.”

Despite the dismay of some Iranians, the way this action was taken, especially considering the recent elections, makes this move of the Clinton administration a genuine step to mend ties rather than a shallow attempt to get at Iranian oil.

According to an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Clinton has also proposed creating a new reserve of heating oil for the Northeastern United States to protect the region from future shortages. Beyond appealing to foreign nations to increase oil production, he provided no short-term steps to bring down fuel prices. In his weekly radio address, President Clinton said, “There is no short-term solution to this problem.”

He refused to release oil from federal reserves, which are for emergency use, to lower gas prices, or to allow drilling in wildlife reserves in Alaska. He instead urged Congress to look for long-term solutions such as conservation tax credits and research spending. Unfortunately, these have been nixed twice before.

“For over two years, Congress has refused to pass common sense tax credits I’ve proposed to promote fuel-saving cars of the future and energy-efficient homes,” Clinton said. “It’s long past time for Congress to fully fund the more than $1 billion I’ve requested to accelerate the research and development of more efficient energy technologies.”

This is a brave position to take, and he probably only has the luxury to take it because he is a lame-duck president.

It also highlights how important campaign finance reform is to the future of America. Oil companies and auto makers have long since used their special interest money to impede alternative energy development.

Fortunately, Honda has put a hybrid car on the market, which will force the others to do likewise.

If Clinton can’t push his initiatives through before the end of his term, technology development will be out of luck. If you think that George W. Bush is going to go do anything about it, you lack the smarts to work at McDonald’s. If you saw yesterday’s New York Times you may have seen a picture of Albert Gore Sr. and Armand Hammer with former Egyptian president Anwar el-Sadat in 1980.

Up until he kicked the can, Armand Hammer owned Occidental Petroleum.

Al Gore Jr. has personally made $450,000 from leasing land to Occidental since 1974. Hammer and Gore Sr. go back to the 1940s when they met at a livestock auction, and Gore Sr. defended Hammer on the floor of the Senate in the early 1960s when J. Edgar Hoover tried to prosecute him for being a Soviet agent.

While taking an unpopular position, Clinton is doing the right thing in searching for long-term solutions and respecting the sovereignty of OPEC nations so as not to strain already tenuous ties. It is also important to push through technology development, because after January, Honda won’t be getting any help.

Erik Hoversten is a senior in math from Eagan, Minn.