Last week, Congressman Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., called for an investigation into the rapid rise in oil prices over the past few weeks. Other Democrats made similar pronouncments, but they were little noted in the press until Republicans picked up on the energy issue this week.
As he did last summer during the last big oil price spike, Sanders is accusing the oil companies of price gouging and wants President Bush to convene an emergency energy summit with Congressional leaders, oil industry executives and consumer advocates to tackle the rising price of gasoline.
We are approaching the third anniversary of President Bush's infamous "Mission Accomplished" speech. It's worth remembering that the Bush administration told us that the Iraq war would increase global oil supplies, lower prices and help pay for the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
None of this has happened.
Instead, oil prices are now more than $70 a barrel despite U.S. oil inventories being at their highest levels in eight years.
Instead, oil company profits are at record levels and most of that money is going to the CEOs rather than increasing refining and distribution capacity.
Sanders wants his energy summit to focus mainly on two things -- short-term solutions to lower oil prices, including windfall profits taxes on oil companies, reductions of tax breaks and subsidies for them -- and reducing dependence on fossil fuels by increased funding and research on renewable energy and energy efficiency.
This is the proverbial public policy no-brainer, and Democrats know it. But the oil industry and its allies in Washington aren't interested in upsetting a very profitable status quo, and Sanders' summit -- even if a few Republicans jump on his train -- will likely go nowhere.
Perhaps public pressure might make a difference this time. People are beginning to see that there is little reason for oil prices to be so high. Most of the recent increases can be blamed on the oil speculators who drive up the price over fears of what might happen -- another Hurricane Katrina, a U.S. attack on Iran, internal unrest in oil producing countries -- rather than actual realities.
And there is absolutely no reason at all why this nation has not fully and totally committed itself toward achieving independence from fossil fuels.
The blueprint to follow is already in place. It's called the Apollo Alliance, named after the program that put a man on the moon in less than a decade in the 1960s. The plan, developed by labor and environmental groups, calls for a 10-year, $300 billion program to develop alternative fuels, increase energy efficiency, rebuild and expand public transportation networks and come up with other initiatives to reduce fossil fuel use and create more than three million jobs in the process.
Given the antipathy of the Republican Party toward energy conservation and public spending, the Apollo Alliance will also be a non-starter under the current one-party rule in Washington. But voters need to demand that any candidate for public office this fall must sign on to this program. It is critical to our national security and our environmental security. It will also help bring energy costs down and boost the economy.
It's time to put an end to oil company profiteering and to devote more of our energies to building a sustainable future.