Thursday, March 24, 2011 | 2:01 a.m.
Gas prices are soaring, and the rate at which they have increased is stunning. The average price of a gallon of regular gasoline this week was $3.56, according to the Energy Department. That’s 51 cents more than it was at the turn of the New Year.
In Nevada, the average price of a gallon of regular gas was $3.70, up 82 cents from a year ago, according to AAA.
Why the huge increases?
The price of crude oil, which drives the price at the pump, has gone up significantly, and experts cite several reasons. For example, industry analysts point to what they say is uncertainty in the oil market because of the situation in the Middle East, most recently with the conflict in oil-rich Libya. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil industry’s trade association, says the prices are due to an increased demand fueled by an uptick in the world’s economy.
No matter the reason, drivers are understandably frustrated — gas prices seem to increase at the slightest provocation. And the high price of gas is putting a crimp on American families and businesses, threatening the nation’s economic recovery. In Nevada, it is a particularly sensitive issue because of the state’s reliance on tourism.
It could get worse. The Energy Department and other analysts are suggesting that gas prices could hit $4 a gallon by this summer, which could hamper vacation travel and further harm tourism.
The oil industry is using the price increase as a way to argue for more drilling. Increase the supply, they say, and the cost will go down. The industry’s supporters in the Republican Party have joined in the call, attacking the Obama administration for not allowing more drilling.
Blaming the Obama administration for high prices is wrong. Had President Barack Obama come into office and immediately approved new widespread drilling, it wouldn’t have changed the situation. It takes years to get an oil well into production.
The push to drill as the solution to rising pump prices is also wrong. High gas prices demonstrate the need for a new energy policy. The nation has needed a long-term plan for years, but fighting in Congress has stalled progress as Republicans have stuck to a narrow view on the issue.
Their “drill, baby, drill” philosophy misses the point. Drilling for oil will certainly have to be part of the policy, but it can’t be its only focus, as Republicans have made it. The nation needs to continue to broaden its approach with the push to improve efficiency and conservation. The increasing use of natural gas and hybrid vehicles is also important.
America needs to be moving toward energy independence, particularly because of national security issues created by dependence on foreign oil. Unfortunately, Republicans have tried to block several efforts to broaden the nation’s energy plan, putting the desires of their supporters in the oil industry ahead of the nation.
The president and Democrats have wisely pushed to develop a strong energy plan, and Republicans should quit working against them. The high gas prices should be a wake-up call for America to diversify its energy policy. If the nation doesn’t plan now for the future, Americans will feel the pain at the pump for years to come.