Rich Tucker

Halfway through the busy summer driving season, gas prices are finally starting to come down a bit. Still, it’s difficult to get excited about paying “only” $3.75 per gallon, when that’s double what prices were a few years ago.

So it’s almost a relief to get back to a steamy Washington, D.C., where politicians have been fiddling while leaving drivers without enough gas to burn.

The big debate in Congress this week was whether to allow more offshore oil exploration. That would seem like a no-brainer, but evidently a little Econ 101 is in order. The key reason gas prices are so high is because, well, there isn’t enough of it. If we increase the supply (by drilling for more) we’ll see prices come down.

Americans understand this. In a recent CNN poll, 69 percent of respondents supported allowing offshore drilling, while only 30 percent opposed it. A few weeks back, President Bush lifted a longtime executive order that banned most offshore drilling. But lawmakers need to act, too. And they didn’t, heading out of town for the August recess without agreeing to further drilling.

In fact, rather than drilling more, leading Democrats said they’d rather extend some existing tax breaks. Those include incentives for renewable energy, such as wind and solar power. “Why should we go forward on drilling if we can’t go forward on extenders?” Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., wondered. “That’s the most important thing we can do for energy right now.”

Is it, though?

According to official government statistics, only 7 percent of our energy comes from renewables, while 40 percent comes from oil. So even with the tax breaks, renewables aren’t making much difference. And, for the time being, we can’t run a car on wind or water power.

Our country does indeed need to move past the era of the internal combustion engine. But while we’re doing that, we also need to develop more sources of oil, to keep prices lower during the transition.

Schumer tried to go on the offensive again when Exxon Mobil announced its record profits. “We are shocked about how the oil companies are spending those profits. They tell us they want to do more domestic production. They tell us they need to drill offshore. They tell us that they can find oil on the mainland. And what do they do with their profits? They buy back their stock simply to increase their share price,” the New York senator said.

Rich Tucker

Rich Tucker is a communications professional and a columnist for