are climbing and Americans want to know why.
Various elected leaders have written letters demanding answers
from federal officials. Arizona's governor Janet Napolitano
is asking President Bush and Attorney General Ashcroft to launch
a federal investigation into rising gas prices. Arizona Attorney
General Terry Goddard has written a letter to Energy Secretary
Spencer Abraham asking him to investigate.
and Goddard are correct to seek answers from the federal government,
because Arizona’s high gas prices have their roots in
federal policies. However, bringing down prices doesn’t
require federal investigations. Instead, they should be asking
Congress to take three steps to provide immediate relief for
gas consumers in Arizona and in other parts of the country.
Congress should rescind the federal gas tax, which amounts to
18.4 cents a gallon. The tax was originally enacted in 1956
to support construction of the interstate highway system, but
has long outlived its usefulness. The highway system is complete,
and funds are now used to support various pork-barrel spending
projects throughout the country. If Arizona’s elected
officials want to conduct an investigation, they should demand
to know why taxpayers in places like Arizona and California
are paying for local projects in places like West Virginia and
Massachusetts. Eliminating the gas tax would save the average
driver hundreds of dollars each year, and maintenance of the
highway system could be turned over to the states, where we
can keep a better eye on spending.
Congress should eliminate federal rules and regulations mandating
the use of specialized fuels in the Phoenix area. The Environmental
Protection Agency, backed by the threat of withheld transportation
funding, forces Arizona to use reformulated blends of gasoline.
These reformulated fuels are scarcer than other kinds of gasoline
and therefore more expensive. As Goddard wrote in his letter
to Secretary Abraham, fuel prices rise each year as refineries
are forced to switch over from winter blends to reformulated
Instead of mandating the use of special fuels, Congress and
the EPA should let Arizona solve its air quality problems. One
way is to target the relatively few super-emitting automobiles
that cause the most pollution. Options include a vehicle license
surcharge for high-polluting vehicles, modified emissions fees,
retrofitting of older vehicles with catalytic converters, accelerated
retirement of older vehicles, and mobile emissions enforcement.
as a long-term measure, Congress should consider legislation
allowing drilling for oil in Alaska’s Arctic National
Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). In accordance with the laws of supply
and demand, gas prices rise when there is a disruption in supply
or an increase in demand. Production of more oil would result
in an increased supply of gasoline and lower gas prices for
consumers. Increased domestic production would also serve to
insulate Americans against supply disruptions initiated by the
Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC). Of course, precautions
should be taken to ensure that drilling produces a minimal environmental
impact on ANWR, but as drilling and oil exploration in other
parts of Alaska have proven, there are environmentally safe
ways to increase oil production.
Unfortunately, the letters by the governor and attorney general
to the federal government don’t address the real causes
of high gas prices. The letters reflect an attitude that only
further federal government intervention can solve local problems.
Rather than asking for federal investigations, we should be
demanding that Congress take positive steps to free up the gas
Mark Brnovich is director of the Goldwater
for Constitutional Government.
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