Sky-High Gas: Who's To Blame?

Motorists looking for some relief at the pump aren't going to get it anytime soon. The government now predicts that gas prices will hover at nearly $4 a gallon for the rest of the year.

Guy Caruso, head of the Energy Department's Energy Information Administration, updated Congress today on America's bleak oil and gas outlook.

The government now believes that retail gasoline prices will average $3.78 this year -- that's an astounding 35 percent higher than the $2.81 average American drivers paid last year. Last month, the government thought gas would average $3.36.

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The government's top energy economists also now believe that oil will average $122.15 a barrel for the year. Last years average price was 69 percent lower at $72.32 a barrel and just last month they were betting on an average cost per barrel of $100.61.

But who can we blame for the massive run-up in gas prices?

Some people blame Congress and President Bush for not doing enough to keep oil prices in check. Others place the blame on Saudi Arabia and other members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries for not producing enough oil.

Still others blame the oil companies that are making record profits and Wall Street speculators betting on higher oil prices. And finally there is a group -- albeit a small one -- that places blame with American drivers and their thirst for gasoline.

So who is to blame? Probably a mix of all of the above.

"There's no person you can blame. It's a myriad of factors that have all conspired to drive the price higher," said Bill O'Grady, chief investment strategist for energy at Wachovia Securities.

Let's start with our elected officials.

The Politicians

Congress decides how much oil companies are taxed, what forms of alternative energy development -- such as solar and wind power -- are subsidized, where oil companies can drill and how fuel efficient our cars need to be.

For years, lawmakers have fought over proposals to expand offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and to allow drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Republicans have pushed for such increased exploration, but Democrats killed the latest push, saying it would do little to ease gas prices in the short term and could have dire environmental consequences.

There is oil in the Artic but getting it would come at a cost.

The Democrats came back with their own hodgepodge of ideas, including giving the president the authority to declare an "energy emergency" and sue OPEC nations, prosecute price gougers and assess a "windfall profits tax" on oil companies. Senate Republicans killed that measure Tuesday.

And for years Congress has ignored proposals to increase fuel-efficiency standards, or CAFE standards. The standards just got their first major overall in three decades with the new legislation calling for automakers to boost fleetwide gas mileage to 35 miles per gallon by 2020.

O'Grady said Americans have cut back on driving and are now looking to buy smaller cars, but that Congress denies its share of the problem.

"Although the public has clearly moved to the acceptance stage, Congress has not. Congress is still stuck at this anger stage so they want to blame speculators," he said. "They are pandering. They want people to feel good about themselves. They want somebody to blame."

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