Friday, September 02, 2005

pain at the pump

Gas prices here in New Jersey and throughout the United States have been positively painful latelyevels. I filled my car's gas tank on Tuesday, even though it was three-quarters full, because I was passing a gas station where regular fuel was $2.55 and I had no idea when I would see gas that cheaply again. Since then, when I took the car out on Wednesday, I saw gas going for as high as $3.19. I'm sure it's even worse in other states.

So, in a fit of civic-mindedness, I actually wrote to my elected officials Thursday night and asked them, not to lower gasoline prices, but to encourage greater conservation efforts and, more importantly, to encourage our nation's auto manufacturers to produce the alternative-fuel vehicles we have heard much about but seen little of.

On the first front, I believe Congress could do much to encourage greater conservation simply with an appeal to our nation's industries to allow telecommuting when possible, and even providing a financial incentive such as a tax credit or other recognition for businesses that encourage telecommuting. They also could prevail upon Bush to stop flying to Crawford, Texas, all the time, ground their limosines, and encourage the use of more fuel-efficient vehicles, like hybrids, for starters.

It would also be nice to see more options in terms of fuel. Internal combustion engines can be modified fairly easily to run on natural gas, as I witnessed firsthand in New Zealand in 1987, and again in Haiti during the ill-conceived embargo of the previous Bush and Clinton administrations. Aside from the post office trucks and a few other government-type vehicles, I'm aware of no such vehicles here in the United States, let alone places for people to fuel them.

More to the point, I've heard reports of prototype fuel cell vehicles for years, but I'm not aware of any efforts to put them into mass production. It would be nice if our elected officials exerted some effort to encourage these alternatives. Left to the market, these changes are going to be disastrously slow in coming and horrendously expensive when they do.

This current presidential administration has been extremely friendly to the automotive and oil industries, through measures such as relaxing fuel-economy standards in early 2001. It's past time we as a nation took seriously our obligation to consider the environment and the economy we will be leaving our children. Any incentive the government can give the auto industry to break our dependence on imported oil can only be a good thing.

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