Lots of ideas to cut oil addiction, but is there will?


Americans are upset. They’re angry. They are calling it a crisis, demanding investigations of oil companies and threatening to punish politicians at the polls for the high cost of gasoline.

And politicians are responding. Maine Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins are throwing out various proposals to encourage bicycle commuting and to fund research of alternate energy sources. President George Bush is visiting research centers and talking about windmills and processes for turning strange plants into fuel for cars.

But, for anyone who has been around the block on this issue, this all has the sad ring of familiarity. We’re prone to these spasms of energetic efforts to conserve energy and promote fuel efficiency. Then, when we grow accustomed to the new, higher price of gasoline, or when the price of gasoline falls, we quickly and comfortably resort to our gas-guzzling ways.

Two photos, taken three years apart, say it all: In May of 2003, the price of gasoline at a downtown Lewiston Getty station was $1.34 per gallon. A photo taken recently shows the same station with gas at $2.85 per gallon. If we take a photo three years from now, what will it be?

The enemy of innovation is, unfortunately, the wildly fluctuating price of oil. One year it’s through the roof and the next year through the floor. And our commitment to conservation and alternative energy sources fluctuates with it.

The current high cost of gasoline should neither shock, dismay or surprise anyone. Experts have been predicting this, and worse, for a long time.

For more than 30 years, Americans have been warned that the supply of fossil fuels is limited and would one day run out. Instead, we now find that the supply is in the ground, but access to it is threatened and other rapidly developing countries are bidding up the cost.

Much of the world’s oil wealth is, unfortunately, found in the world’s most politically unstable regions: the Mideast, African and Central America. Meanwhile, rapidly growing economies in China and India are forcing up prices.

The solution, of course, is to be found among the many ideas circulating in Congress: deeper tax credits for people who invest in homes and autos that use alternative energy sources; guaranteed markets for ethanol and other sources of fuel; tax incentives that encourage people to use mass transit, to carpool and walk to work.

Our nation has no shortage of ideas and innovative potential.

Perhaps, as experts predict, $3 gasoline is here to stay. If that’s true, it may finally give us the determination and sustained leadership to break our oil addiction.