04/26/06 — The gas formula: Multiple factors influence the prices we pay

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The gas formula: Multiple factors influence the prices we pay

It’s about time someone did something.

President Bush’s decision to at least look into the possibility that there might be a remedy to the increasingly spiraling gas prices is a sign that at least someone is thinking about what gas priced at nearly $3 a gallon must be doing to American families.

We won’t talk about the fact that the president’s call for an investigation into the record profits of the nation’s oil companies is a marked change from his earlier implied support of the price-setting, suggesting that it is part of normal market fluctuations.

And there might be nothing more to the price run-up than that — the ebbs and flows of a volatile market. Just because the president has called for an investigation doesn’t mean there will be any wrongdoing to find. The gasoline price run might be related to a market that can sometimes require enormous exploration and support costs. A company that cannot provide the means to grow its business will be dead. That is a consideration, too.

When the price of milk or bread jumps quickly, or oranges or red peppers become a high-priced luxury, no one calls for a three-day hearing. After all, if the cost of feed is higher or crop conditions put a strain on those providing the product, the costs are passed along somewhere. We understand that and adjust our budgets — and diets — accordingly.

But all that remains to be seen.

For right how, there are many Americans suffering — kind of.

The trick to cutting gasoline costs requires more than simply policing oil companies. If we really want to control the grip this commodity has on this country, we need to think about how we use it, too. There are many families who do not waste gas. They conserve trips and think carefully before firing up their car engines to run an errand. They are the ones for whom we should be looking at the effects of gas prices. Business owners, too, have to worry. They need gas to get their jobs done — and the resulting increased travel costs are hurting consumers, too. That is another reason to look for some gas relief.

Others of us are not so careful. The gas prices are making us think now before firing up our car engines, but they sure didn’t a couple of weeks ago.

Encouraging responsible use is as important as regulating the prices we pay at the pump.

But if, in the process, we can cut down the bill a bit, now is the time to take a look.

Published in Editorials on April 26, 2006 11:54 AM