After a year of record-setting gas prices, oil companies have earned record-setting profits. In response, Gov. Jennifer Granholm – hoping to send the right message to such companies and voters alike – submitted an online petition last week to President Bush, urging, among other things, a profit cap and a repeal of the tax cuts that have mostly benefited the wealthy.
But while it is well intentioned and a step in the right direction, Granholm’s petition will not be successful in helping most drivers’ top concern: lowering the price of gas. Even so, her efforts were not made in vain. In the absence of an external force such as a natural disaster to drive oil prices up, the apparent avarice of oil executives – former ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond’s $98 million retirement package comes to mind – has made many Michiganians angry, and rightfully so. A tax on oil profits will bring some much-needed revenue, but without attacking the real causes of rising gas prices rooted in our addiction to oil, it will fall short of its intention.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos’s energy plan, on the other hand, can only be described as foolish. DeVos, who believes that taxing oil profits will stifle investment, wants to eliminate the sales tax on gasoline. This plan would only save the consumer $0.06 for every dollar that the price of gas increases above $1.95. However, the amount of revenue the state would lose as a result is a whopping $285 million. Without a plan to make up the difference, key funds like those for school aid, local government sharing funds and the state general fund may fall short.
There are better ways to knock gas prices down and to lower our dependency on oil. Making fuel-efficient cars more readily available is a good first step, as is focusing more resources on alterative fuels like ethanol. Consumers should also be encouraged to drive less, participate in carpools and car sharing when possible or use mass transit systems, such as subways, elevated trains and buses. (Of course, such mass transit systems must first be built.) Less people on the road will cause the demand for gas to decrease, and thus drive down prices.
Even with all these changes, we can no longer overlook the fact that it is time to reevaluate our ingrained perceptions of where and when to drive. As suburbs move farther and farther away from centers of employment, Americans find themselves commuting up to two hours each way for work. Given the skyrocketing price of gas and dangerous increases in greenhouse emissions, we must accept that the era of one person driving a seven-seat SUV 50 or 60 miles to and from work is over. This solution will take more time and effort than others, but it is the only one that will prove viable in the long run.
Gov. Granholm’s proposals reflect the outrage of the ever-increasing price of gas coupled with record profits by oil companies. But simply increasing taxes (or foolishly decreasing them, as DeVos would do) will not counter the threats we face in the long run. What we need is a cure, and we cannot back down if, like all life-saving medication, it is a little hard to swallow.