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Strategic Petroleum Reserve: Bad gas

March 8, 2011 | 11:02 am

Gas prices President Obama can't seem to get a break. The unemployment rate is down (from 9.8% in November to 8.9% in February), which is great news for the economic recovery. But now the cost of oil has skyrocketed, resulting in astronomical gas prices in the neighborhood of $4 per gallon in Los Angeles.

Just because gasoline prices are up, says our editorial board, doesn't mean we ought to dip into our Strategic Petroleum Reserve. In Tuesday's Opinion pages, they argue:

The reserve was created in response to the 1973 Arab oil embargo, as a hedge against serious disruptions in the oil market. In recent years, it has been tapped in the wake of hurricanes that damaged U.S. production, such as Gustav and Ike in 2008 and Katrina in 2005. What's affecting the market now is a sort of man-made hurricane: a rebellion in Libya that has cut off a key source of European oil. Yet it's a mistake to think that this is the only reason prices are rising. […]That's why it's critical for Americans to focus on efficiency and alternative energy sources.

Michael J. Graetz, a professor of law at Columbia Law School and the author of the forthcoming "The End of Energy: The Unmaking of America's Environment, Security, and Independence" would agree. In Monday’s pages, he tapped into the U.S.' costly oil addiction.

Our domestic energy policies have failed us. Although we have succeeded in eliminating oil from electricity production (reducing oil-based electricity generation from 17% in 1973 to less than 1% today), this has come at the cost of substantially increasing our reliance on dirty coal-fired electricity, boosting our carbon emissions considerably.

Likewise, automobile fuel efficiency standards have reduced somewhat U.S. oil consumption, but in an unnecessarily costly manner, and they do nothing to reduce the miles we drive. Economists have estimated that a gasoline tax of just 25 cents a gallon would have saved as much oil as these fuel efficiency standards at one-third the cost to the economy. […]

Decades after the Arab oil embargo, we accept instability and even war in the Middle East as inevitable. We take it for granted that we will pay the costs in lives and treasure. […]

The president recently described Libya's oppression of popular unrest as unacceptable. It is. But so is our longstanding failure to address our inadequate domestic policies concerning oil.

RELATED:

Energy: Jimmy Carter, a president for our time

Gasoline prices: Round up the usual suspects!

Sen. Dianne Feinstein: Robbing California of energy

California's renewable energy push: It's time for a state law

Dirtying the Clean Air Act

-- Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: A gas station attendant raises gas prices on a sign at a station in the Hollywood. Credit: Nick Ut / Associated Press

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