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Driving The Costs Higher

Driving The Costs HigherThough Washington takes the blame, American consumers may actually be the force behind rising gas prices.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.31.01] This summer may be the most expensive yet for American drivers. With gas prices on the rise and little relief in sight, the Bush Administration has been under a lot of pressure to help ease energy costs before the public's wallets run dry alongside their gas tanks. While the energy battle has grown political, a Tufts expert says the nation's drivers should really share more of the responsibility.

"Adding 16 million inefficient vehicles to the U.S. fleet each year has finally overwhelmed the system," William Moomaw wrote in a Boston Globe opinion piece. "Americans must simply look in the mirror to find the price-rise culprit."

According to the international environmental policy expert at Tufts' Fletcher School, the explanations for the 1970s energy crisis -- which have resurfaced in response to the current problems -- don't apply anymore.

Old arguments, like deliberate plots by oil companies to drive up prices by reducing supply, fail to address the real problems, Moomaw wrote.

While demand for oil is on the rise, the oil companies aren't responsible for the lagging supply.

"OPEC is letting oil flow pretty quickly," Moomaw wrote. "There are tankers coming from Europe filled with refined gasoline and they are unloading at docks up and down the East Coast."

In fact, the Tufts professor noted that refineries are actually producing twice as much gasoline as they did in 1983.

So why are supplies dwindling? Moomaw pointed to American's "gas-guzzling habits."

"While consumers have no control over supply, which is in the hands of the oil companies and foreign lands, they do have control over demand," Moomaw wrote in the Globe. "If we could simply return to the buying habits of 10 years ago -- when more people chose new cars for their gas-efficiency rather than outsized status symbolism -- the price of gas would not be an issue today."

According to Moomaw, there are a number of efficient alternatives, including everything from more fuel-efficient cars to hybrid-electric vehicles to the growing number of ride-sharing programs and rental vehicle available across the country.

And the change in consumer's habits would do more than just ease gas prices.

"The benefits of reducing demand are not only lower prices, less congestion and cleaner air, but also greater environmental, economic and national security," he wrote. "You choose."

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