Can Uncle Sam Cut Gas Costs?

Nearly two dozen governors asked Congress to hold hearings and investigate the recent surge in gasoline prices. The Connecticut congressional delegation requested the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate. Congress held hearings and legislators proposed price gouging legislation. The House voted to give the government permission to sue OPEC over its production quotas, arguing that the cartel uses them to set the price of oil.

But with gas prices at record highs, is there anything that the government can do to help lower the cost of gasoline?

The ABC News Business Unit spoke with several energy economists and analysts and asked them to comment on proposals often mentioned.

What if the government were to standardize the types of gasoline refined in the United States?

Michelle Foss, chief energy economist at the bureau of Economic Geology at the University of Texas in Austin, said this could lower prices. "If everyone had the same rules in place, it would lower the cost of correcting imbalances and make it easier for suppliers to adjust because demand is not the same in all parts of U.S."

"It would help," agreed Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy, "but it would not fundamentally change it. It would reduce localized extreme priced spikes. But overall increases nationally would not be changed." He added that if the nation decided to go for lower standards and allow for dirtier gasoline, then prices might drop further.

Jerry Taylor, a senior fellow who studies energy policy at the CATO Institute, also said this could lower prices, but added, "Multiplicity of blends is not the reason why we've got high gasoline prices today. It is a very modest factor in terms of price." He also said that certain states and cities have specialized fuels for specific reasons, such as improving air quality.

If oil companies could drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge or in more places offshore, would that lower prices?

More domestic drilling would not help prices in the short term according to the economists and analysts. "Anything developed in terms of new resources," said Foss, "has a longer term impact and is vital and is still important."

If drilling started today in Alaska, it could be six to eight years before any oil would be available for use. Taylor with the CATO Institute said, "Opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge is probably not going to have much impact on prices even in the future. World crude oil prices are established by global supply and demand, not national supply and demand."

Taylor added, "This is not argument against drilling, but it's an argument about not overselling or overpromising what drilling can yield to consumer."

Furthermore, Taylor and Borenstein pointed out that an oil field such as one in northern Alaska might increase daily crude oil supplies by only 1 percent.

"You cannot drill way out of high oil prices in the North American continent," said Borenstein. "There just isn't any oil that can have significant effect."

Some state legislators in Texas want to lift gasoline taxes during the summer. Will lowering taxes lower gasoline prices?

Lowering or removing state and federal gasoline taxes which add 45 cents to the price of a gallon of gasoline could actually increase prices and send even more money to oil companies.

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