Minnesota’s U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar is right on when it comes to the tyranny of spiking gasoline prices.
In a recent opinion column, she addressed the many factors that contribute to gas prices that periodically skyrocket as they did here in Minnesota this spring. In that case, we’re told, it was caused by the simultaneous shut-down of several oil refineries in the Upper Midwest, causing a slump in supply and an increase in prices in excess of $4 per gallon.
Klobuchar has introduced a bill in the U.S. Congress that would require refineries to report to the Energy Information Administration any scheduled maintenance that might shut down their operations. The bill would also require them to give immediate notification of any unplanned outages. That information could serve as an early-warning system to protect consumers from problems in the refinery industry. That way, the Energy Information Administration can work to make sure scheduled refinery shutdowns don’t send gas prices skyrocketing.
Klobuchar’s bill would also call for more fuel-storage capacity in the Upper Midwest, which lags behind storage capacity of refined fuels in other parts of the nation. That makes us more vulnerable to refinery outages.
As Klobuchar rightly points out, spikes in fuel prices can weaken Minnesota’s economy because of the unanticipated, sudden cost increases that adversely affect all forms of economic activity, including workers’ discretionary income. Thus, it’s about time Congress demands some accountability and transparency from oil companies.
Too often, they trot out excuses for skyrocketing prices. They will blame the Arab oil cartel; they will blame the weather or natural disasters; they will blame onerous governmental regulations. In some cases, yes, those can be factors, but most often oil companies either exaggerate those causes or just plain lie about them. They never, of course, mention a cause called greed, especially the greed of Wall Street hotshots who can manipulate the price of oil through their devious speculations. According to Klobuchar, 56 cents of every gallon of gas can be attributed to that kind of speculation.
Klobuchar is calling for a new-and-improved national energy policy that would address the problems listed above, as well as the promotion of more domestic oil drilling, development of more biofuels and other energy alternatives and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
There is good news, to be sure. Our dependence on foreign fuels declined from 60 percent to 40 percent in recent years in large part because of increased production in North Dakota, use of homegrown fuels and better gas mileage in vehicles. However, good as that news is, it won’t be good for long unless a national energy policy requires accountability. Otherwise, gas prices, no matter where the fuel is pumped and refined, will continue to increase and to spike, beyond our control.
Three cheers for Klobuchar and her energy bill. She is a great Minnesota progressive who focuses consistently on all the right problems. What a pity other do-nothing representatives don’t follow her lead.