Alternative fuels should be passing gas in usage

Recently I was watching one of my favorite movies, "Dazed and Confused." I've always liked the movie because it's quite funny. But there was something I didn't notice before that made me laugh this time.

There was a scene at a gas station where the price of a gallon of unleaded gas cost 58 cents. The movie takes place in 1976 during the legendary fuel crises.

I realize inflation would make that price ridiculously low today, but with the price of gas inching closer to the $3 mark, it isn't funny how much the cost to fill up has jumped in recent years.

A gallon for less than $2 seems a distant memory, yet it was only two years ago we were complaining about a gallon reaching $1.90 and that was due to a pipeline closure between Tucson and Phoenix. August 2003 marked the first time Arizonans paid $2 per gallon, according to AAA Arizona.

As easy as it is to blame the big bad government, oil and auto companies and the nations of OPEC, consumers must share part of the blame for price hikes in a supply-demand economy.

Gasoline prices hit a new high Aug. 11, not only in Arizona but nationwide partly because of rising consumption.

According to AAA Arizona, the statewide average price for self-serve regular rose 7.1 cents to a record $2.477 per gallon. This time last year, that same gallon cost $1.898, 30-percent lower than the average cost today. Nationwide, regular gasoline costs an average of $2.397 per gallon.

The problem is that in the United States, gasoline is as much a necessity to life as food or clothing. But unlike those other necessities, there are no alternatives to the kind of gas we can buy. There is no store brand gasoline at a much lower price than the brand names. There are no holiday sales on fuel. There are no discount or "dollar store" gas stations.

Without the competition of alternative fuels, oil companies and OPEC have no incentive to offer those staples of the retail world.

American automakers are finally unveiling hybrid and alternative fuel cars, of course, trailing the Japanese companies that have been selling them for five years already.

The advantage to fuel-efficient alternative fuel driven cars would be huge for those of us in rural areas that need to drive 30, 40 or 50 miles in any direction to shop for other basic needs.

Americans will still buy gasoline regardless of how high prices become. Even if we had quality mass transit, we couldn't give up our cars. But the distance traveled would be reduced.

Workers would use even less vacation days than they already do. That will affect the struggling airlines as well as vacation resorts, golf courses and national and state parks.

The overall effect would hurt the national economy. Money spent at the pumps is money lost to restaurants, entertainment venues and general merchandisers.

The rising fuel costs force cities, school districts and other government agencies to reallocate funds from needed public services and payroll to keeping aging fleets of vehicles operational.

The first things that usually are cut from individual's budgets are those little rewards that make living in America extra nice. For someone who drives 15,000 miles a year and gets 20 miles per gallon, a 60-cent jump means an extra $450 a year at the pump.

The longer our government continues to be dazed and confused by subsidizing this relatively ancient form of energy, the harsher the effect on those Americans living on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder.

That's my view. What's yours? Send me a letter to the editor by filling out the comment form below. Be sure to include your name and hometown.


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