Conserve to Get Revenge on Oil Barons - Southern Maryland Headline News

Conserve to Get Revenge on Oil Barons

Commentary by Karen Hosler

Just when one or two of us might have been willing to accept higher gasoline taxes to repair our roads and help clean the Chesapeake Bay, gas prices are going up anyway with no redeeming benefits.

What’s worse, outrage over the price hikes has weakened the spines of politicians from President Obama on down, putting anti-pollution measures even farther out of reach. Even “fracking” for natural gas, with its toxic consequences in Pennsylvania, seems to have grown more acceptable.

But there is nothing politicians of either party can actually do about the gasoline price spike — despite some promises to the contrary. Our only recourse is to buy as little of the oily stuff as we can. Then, conservation can still help the Chesapeake Bay and the environment nationwide.

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley proposed last month to impose a 6 percent tax on gasoline at the wholesale level, which at the time would have added about 18 cents a gallon to the current state tax of 23.5 cents per gallon.

Revenue from the tax increase — which would be the first tax hike on gasoline in Maryland since 1992 — was intended to repair aging roads and bridges. If a drop in consumption resulted, that offered the side benefit of reducing motor vehicle emissions that supply up to one-third of the nitrogen that turns the bay into a dead zone.

But global supply concerns have boosted the average price of gasoline in the United States by 11 cents per gallon just in the last two weeks, according to the latest Lundberg survey. The price now hovers at $4 per gallon in the mid-Atlantic states and is higher for premium.

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller has declared the challenge of adding on a state gasoline tax just too great, and put off action on O’Malley’s proposal until gas prices go down again — maybe in the fall.

“We’re one of the wealthiest states in the union and we can certainly afford a gas tax — if it is feasible,” Miller told reporters. “Right now, it does not appear to be feasible, but at some point in time in the near future it’s going to have to be feasible so we can move our state forward.”

Meanwhile, Obama’s Republican challengers have been blaming him vociferously for the soaring cost of fuel. Thus, he took to the campaign trail last week to promote his “all of the above” approach to energy production. He said that America simply doesn’t have the oil resources to slake its thirst, and promoted energy alternatives including hydraulic fracturing — a drilling technique known as “fracking.”

Fracking in the Marcellus Shale, a rich vein of natural gas lying in the Allegheny basin from New York, though Pennsylvania to Maryland, is both attractive and controversial.

Pennsylvania collected $1.1 billion in state and local taxes in 2010 from fracking, according to the industry. But landowners and environmental groups contend toxic chemicals used in the process have poisoned local water supplies — and threatened the Susquehanna River — which flows directly into the Chesapeake Bay.

O’Malley has delayed fracking in Maryland’s portion of the shale, but his regulatory roadblocks may not hold for much longer in today’s energy-poor environment.

State Sen. David Brinkley, a Frederick County Republican, echoed the view of all the major candidates in the heated race for the congressional seat in Western Maryland.

“Do you go into it blindly and irresponsibly? Of course not,” he said in an interview. “But at the same time, we have to really be expeditious in trying to move forward on what’s going on. We have some tremendous opportunities there.”

For those who are struggling to keep a car going, it may be hard to remember that the price of gasoline is relative to expectations. Back in March 2000, about 150 truckers came to Washington to circle the Capitol in protest of gasoline that was nearing $2 a gallon. Then, as now, politicians were terrified, and seriously considered rolling back the federal gasoline tax. Some truckers wisely noted, though, that reducing the source of revenue that pays for road improvements was not in their best interests.

So it is now. Americans should not protest the greed of global oil speculators by cutting off new resources to local infrastructure and the environment.

We still have really cheap, federally subsidized energy. But if you don’t like the price of driving, try taking a walk.

Karen Hosler, former editorial writer for the Baltimore Sun, is a reporter, commentator and talk show host in Baltimore. Distributed by the Bay Journal News Service.

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