Will Bush's Attack on Gas Prices Work?

President Bush responded to weeks of rising gas prices today by outlining his strategy for keeping the costs down, saying Americans should drive less while the government tackles price gouging and confronts the energy reserves.

But it's not clear that those approaches will make any difference in what's charged at the pump.

The declaration to crack down on price gouging at gas stations may help quiet critics who believe the market is being manipulated, but the reality is that the industry is often accused of such profiteering and almost never found guilty of these kinds of actions.

"I don't think anyone's going to find anything. I just think it makes everyone feel better," said Robin West, the chairman of PFC Energy.

The president also spoke about getting prices down by promoting fuel efficiency. But the reality is that asking individuals to drive less and cruise at lower speeds will only lead to lower prices if Americans change their behavior en masse.

"They like big, comfortable, heavy inefficient cars to drive around in. That's fine. That's their choice," West said. "But they should realize the consequence of that choice and the consequence is higher prices."

Strategies That Could Work

Over the long term, the president's proposal to develop alternative fuels -- including ethanol and hydrogen power -- could provide relief at the pump. But, like the proposal to increase domestic supplies by drilling for oil off the Florida coast, that relief is probably years away.

"It's not going to have any impact on gasoline prices next year or for the next five or even 10 years," according to Oppenheimer & Co. energy analyst Fadel Gheit.

What could have an impact almost immediately is a suspension of environmental regulations. The reality here is that waiving the elaborate rules on summertime blends of gas will likely push supplies up and prices down.

"I will say it will bring gasoline prices down substantially within two to three weeks," said Gheit. "I would say by 20 cents at least or even more."

But don't expect a similarly effective result from Bush's plan to stop filling the strategic petroleum reserve. It may sound reassuring, but it's really just a drop in the bucket.

"It's a sensible step to take, there's nothing wrong with doing this. But this isn't a silver bullet," West said.

Analysts say it's taken 25 years to get into this problem, and it's going to take years to get out of it.

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