Even our fantastically flexible economy is struggling with today's gas prices. The momentary inconvenience of paying more and driving less is only a symptom. The root cause is that we're beholden to a generation of lunatic-fringe fundamentalists who see a big recession as sort of an hors d'oeuvre before they commit the next terror attack here at home. And we're beholden to a lifestyle that we're unwilling to support with what we have and what we can afford today.
So while you might really be looking for six ways to cut costs at the pumps today, I'm giving you six ways we can cut gas prices forever--but it's bitter medicine, no doubt:
Drill here, drill now--and refine. Open up the Alaskan National Wildlife Refuge, the Florida and California coasts, and the shale deposits in the Rockies for more exploration. Send the signal that we're serious about doing for ourselves. Start right now by signing the petition online from Newt Gingrich's American Solutions. Build refineries to handle the expansion. If you want a larger economy and more prosperity, it must be fed.
Cut tariffs on Brazilian ethanol. We have 6 million flex-fuel vehicles already on the road. Our ethanol's expensive and inefficient to produce; Brazil makes a lot of richer ethanol at much cheaper prices, but we levy a tariff on it to "protect American farmers." At the current state of U.S. ethanol production, E85-equipped vehicles will never reach a tipping point of acceptance, and development will stall like it did in the early 1990s when I drove my first flex-fuel Chevrolet Lumina. Detonate demand: open the door to Brazilian imported ethanol, get people used to looking for something other than gas, and make an even stronger relationship with a country that's in our hemisphere and has identified huge oil reserves as a backup. Farm states don't want it, proving that self-interest doesn't only run deep at the gas pump.
Go nuclear. Wherever possible, we need to build new nuclear reactors and a real solution in place to deal with nuclear waste. If China, Russia, and India can have more than a hundred reactors in the planning stages, so can we. This is the only way to make plug-in hybrids work: get cars on the grid and off the tanker.
Leave "Big Oil" alone while we cut consumption. Idiotic calls to "seize oil profits" and "take oil companies to task" are fright moves that will scare the existing industry out of exploration when we can least afford it. If more Americans knew the difference between a profit margin and pure profit, this wouldn't even be an issue.
Keep researching for usable alternatives. Hear about the bacteria that excrete crude oil? Or the natural wind tunnel of West Texas that could be farmed? These are great examples of energy diversity. Keep funding research and expanding use, but if they can't turn a profit in 15 years, move on. Rely on American ingenuity first, resources second.
Dump the CAFE standards. The most destructive legislation in industrial history needs to be broomed. Let the market decide whether big cars live or die--and only with heavy guarantees in place, set a flat national tax on gasoline that goes directly to improving roads and easing traffic flow. Some automakers like the idea, because it makes more sense to consumers and it makes more sense to industry than CAFE. I like it because it leaves choice in your hands.
And for a seventh, how about:
Get real about driving--and flying, and shopping, and everything. Here's where you come in. You don't need three cars. You don't need to live 50 miles from work or from public transportation. You don't need to drive 30 minutes across town for "a great meal." Learn to cook, learn to ride a bus, and learn to consume less where you can. Driving is not the only player in our crude-oil domestic melodrama, but it's an easy place to start.