Thursday, May 17, 2007

Gas Pains Evoke The 'Blamethrower'

The response this week from oil companies to questions about skyrocketing prices at the pumps was pure arrogance.

Thier investment strategies aren't to blame. It's all the consumer's fault, or some other group. They won't increase refineries because the government is pushing for decreased consumption over the next 10 years:

John Felmy, chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute, said in a phone interview that whenever the industry tries to add refining capacity, it faces opposition from surrounding communities. Moreover, Felmy questioned why the industry would make expensive refining expansions when President Bush is calling for a 20 percent reduction in gasoline use by 2017.

"But the Consumer Federation's Mark Cooper said the refining industry hasn't even tried to build new refineries and has instead closed 50 since the 1990s rather than make investments to make them comply with pollution laws.

Oddly, crude oil prices are lower now than last year at this time.

Cooper goes on to say:

This is just mismanagement," he said. "But they get away with it because there is no competitive discipline."

And in the Consumer Affairs statement prior to the congressional hearings this week:

Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia now have average prices at or above $3 a gallon with Kentucky, Florida and Maryland the latest states to join the list.

Consumers are feeling the gas price bite as the average U.S. household is spending $1,000 more per year on gasoline than it did five years ago, according to several consumer groups.

Rural households have been hardest hit because they spend about 20 percent more on gas than urban residents, according to Labor Department figures.

A group representing U.S. motorists is asking Congress to investigate current gasoline refinery problems that have caused a painful spike in prices at the pump.

The American Automobile Association says lawmakers should look at the link between these supply shortages and rising oil company profits."

There were also claims that the changeover to "summer blend" gasoline was part of the supply problem, though last year that excuse emerged in March not May. All excuses are valid in the minds of big oil.

Even with profits up 39% last year, oil companies say they are helpless to affect the market.

But it's consumers that are helpless - and big oil uses the 'Blamethrower" to deflect criticism. It's your fault and it's no one's fault.

I've noticed the usual "let's boycott gas for a day" movements attempting to bring attention to the issue. I've been thinking we should start designating one day a month for the next year as boycott gasoline day. Within a few months, the boycott might just catch on. Especially since gas is headed over the $3 mark for the rest of the summer.

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