by Nancy Rechtman
Can you remember the days when filling up your gas tank did not involve taking out a home equity loan? When you could afford to buy both gasoline and luxuries such as groceries? When gas stations that were located at the same intersection actually competed for your business instead of immediately raising their prices as soon as their competitors raised theirs?
Are you wondering what is going on when in the span of just a few weeks, gas prices jumped nearly 40 cents? What possible explanation can there be when you drive by a gas station and realize that prices have leapt ten cents higher than the day before? And, coincidentally enough, the same leap has been taken by every other gas station in the area. And, have you noticed that just when there are calls for investigations getting louder and louder, the prices start coming down a few cents here and there to appease us? As if we'll forget the painful bills we are paying when a few cents are tossed in our direction?
Has there been another hurricane or natural disaster which purportedly caused the initial sky high prices last fall? Are there shortages we are not aware of? Let's look at the following information:
According to ABC News, in October, ExxonMobil announced net income of almost $10 billion for the most recent earning quarter. It was the largest quarterly profit EVER for a U.S. company. According to the Guardian newspapers, ExxonMobil's (annual) profits of $36 billion have produced more profits in one year than the economies of 125 of the 184 top countries ranked by the World Bank.
Other oil companies saw profit revenue soar as well, from 34 percent to 68 percent above 2004 levels. And, the main source of these sky-high profits is..high oil and gas prices. Even politicians from both parties have begun questioning why the oil companies are profiting so much while the rest of us can barely make ends meet. This is not a red state or blue state issue - it is an issue that affects all of us, no matter what our political affiliations.
The group Public Citizen has called on Congress to investigate the uncompetitive practices of the oil companies. They also want to enact fuel economy standards which would help slow down demand and help the environment. Public Citizen told lawmakers that these record profits are partially the result of uncompetitive markets - there have been too many mergers combined with lax government regulations of the oil companies. The result is that you and I get stuck with the exorbitant bill at the pump.
What can we do about this situation, short of buying a good pair of walking shoes and permanently garaging our cars? Some suggestions include keeping your car in optimal running condition, properly inflate your tires, drive at the posted speed limit, use public transportation if it is available, if you are in the market for a new car, consider either a hybrid or one that gets decent gas mileage, and support initiatives for new and innovative sources of energy. Let your voice be heard. Contact your elected representatives and demand that they stop catering to the deep pockets of the oil companies and start showing concern for their constituents whose pain is real.
We also need to demand that automakers raise the fuel economy of our vehicles. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, our reliance on foreign oil is continuing to grow. One of the problems is that the fuel economy of new passenger vehicles peaked in 1988 and is declining because federal standards are so lax, more and more miles are being driven, and sales are increasing of fuel-inefficient SUVs and light trucks. What they suggest is that federal fuel economy standards be increased to over 40 mpg by 2015 and 55 mpg by 2025.
We not only need to work on easing the burden on our pocketbooks but also on the environment. According to the Sierra Club, we need to reduce consumption of fossil fuels because of the real threat of global warming. "Cars and light trucks account for 40% of U.S. oil consumption and emit 20% of the nation's carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution, the heat-trapping gas that causes global warming." They go on to say that the United States is the world's largest global warming polluter and we need to take the lead in reducing this kind of pollution.
If you are ready to make your voice be heard, here are two links to get you started:
To contact your Senator, go to: http://www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm
To contact your Congressional Representative, go to: www.house.gov/writerep/
Demand answers as to why gas prices are soaring once again. When you take a good look at the profits being made off of you, the consumer, as you struggle to make ends meet, decide it's time to ask why.
Please let me know your reactions to these columns as I would enjoy hearing what bugs you, too. You can reach me at email@example.com.
Copyright Nancy Machlis Rechtman, all rights reserved. Small excerpts of the column may be republished as long as appropriate credit is given. To request permission to publish larger portions or the entire column, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.