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THURSDAY, APRIL 7, 2005
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EDITORIAL

Time for government to probe gasoline prices

The price of gasoline jumped 16 cents in Decatur from Saturday to Tuesday, costing motorists as much as $2.25 per gallon for regular.

Premium gasoline was near $2.50 per gallon, costing motorists almost $50 to fill up.

Meanwhile in Washington, the czar of the economy, Alan Greenspan, in his customary veiled way, urged the government to stay out of the crisis.

Economic forces, he said, will eventually bring prices down, meaning demand will lessen as fewer people drive their vehicles. Forcing people to park their cars because they can't afford gasoline is a sorry way to conserve.

The nation doesn't need price controls, but it does need a bipartisan congressional investigation into factors responsible for jacking up prices. Manipulating the market for profit needs to be punished.

Our government can't simply go after the OPEC cartel for limiting supply, but it can dig into the speculative trading of petroleum and determine if refineries are limiting production.

Congress, which is strangely silent on gasoline prices, needs to determine if this crisis is about windfall profits or a shortage of petroleum. As in other pricing crises, the cost of gasoline at the pump hits lower income Americans the hardest.

The president's answer to the crisis is to drill in the Alaskan wilderness. But that won't help motorists today, this year or for several more. When it does, the wildlife area will only yield a token amount of crude oil.

The strategy seems to be to drive up prices to the point that oil explorers will drill new wells and refiners will increase capacity, at greater profits.

America runs on oil, which makes this crisis a national emergency. Not many people find comfort in being told by the Bush administration that the price of gasoline today is a real bargain when factoring in inflation.

People are hurting.

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