"Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please." (Mark Twain)

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Gassy 

It seems that the Decider in Chief has in fact decided that high gas prices are a problem that might have an adverse impact on the historical view of his presidency (unlike, say, torture in Soviet-surplus gulags, an illegal war of aggression, or compromising a deep-cover agent's identity for crass political benefit), and means to do something about it. Bloomberg is here to tell you all about it:
President George W. Bush, facing voter concern over soaring fuel prices, said he will free up oil that is being added to the nation's emergency reserves and waive rules that are creating bottlenecks in U.S. gasoline markets.

Bush, in a speech today in Washington to the trade group for ethanol producers, said the country should raise fuel efficiency and develop alternatives to oil. He also ordered the Justice Department to look for possible price manipulation. Democratic lawmakers said Bush's proposal would do little to lower prices.

"We'll leave a little more oil on the market" by halting deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, Bush said. "Every little bit helps." He said that the fuel rule waivers would address concerns about local shortages as refiners switch to ethanol as the most common gasoline additive.

And that's the last time the article - which is moderately lengthy - mentions rule waivers. Instead, the focus is on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve - "at or near capacity and the effects of suspending additions through the end of summer is likely to be minimal" - and the bluster about investigating price manipulation. Like that's going anywhere.

In any event, the Boy King recognizes that "steps he's taking are 'short-term' remedies:"
The real solution, he said, is to develop alternative energy sources and "power our automobiles with something other than oil."

Bush said he is "strongly committed" to using more ethanol, which is made from corn, as an alternative. He said he wants to expand research into similar fuels made from wood chips and other plants or waste. Bush repeated his call for continued development of technology to use hydrogen as fuel.

Nice to know that the Empty Flight Suit realized that he was speaking to a group of ethanol producers, and was lucid enough to remember to pander a bit. But - what about those rule waivers?

Well, for that you have to go to the foreign press (emphasis supplied):
President George W. Bush on Tuesday ordered a temporary suspension of environmental rules for gasoline and announced steps to ease environmental standards governing fuel grades, freeing refiners from using certain additives such as ethanol to meet clean air standards....

Easing the environment rules will make it easier for refiners to meet demand by giving them greater flexibility in providing oil supplies. The suspension of oil purchases for the federal emergency oil reserve is likely to have only modest impact since relative little extra oil will be involved.

Hmmm. I wonder if the President happened to cover this topic in much detail in his address to the ethanol producers? Well, let's go to the transcript; here. If you read the speech (and I don't recommend it, in particular) you will see a lot of starry-eyed love for ethanol (you never forget your first crush) and an arch reference to drilling in ANWR amid the usual argybargy, but just this one scant word about rule waivers:
Yet state and local officials in some parts of our country worry about supply disruption for the short term. They worry about the sudden change from MTBE to ethanol -- the ethanol producers won't be able to meet the demand. And that's causing the price of gasoline to go up some amount in their jurisdictions.

And some have contacted us to determine whether or not they can ask the EPA to waive local fuel requirements on a temporary basis. And I think it makes sense that they should be allowed to. So I'm directing EPA Administrator Johnson to use all his available authority to grant waivers that would relieve critical fuel supply shortages. And I do that for the sake of our consumers. If Johnson finds that he needs more authority to relieve the problem, we're going to work with Congress to obtain the authority he needs.

Secondly, we also need to confront the larger problem of too many localized fuel blends, which are called boutique fuels. The number of boutique fuels has expanded rapidly over the years, and America now has an uncoordinated and overly complex set of fuel rules. And when you have a uncoordinated, overly complex set of fuel rules, it tends to cause the price to go up.

And so I'm asking Director -- directing Administrator Johnson to bring the governors together to form a task force on boutique fuels. And the mission of this task force will be to find ways to reduce the number of boutique fuels and to increase cooperation between states on gasoline supply decisions. I want to simplify the process for the sake of our consumers. And then I'm asking them to get these recommendations to my desk, and I look forward to working with the United States Congress to simplify the process.

Kinda soft-soaped the "just say no to ethanol" policy, didn't he?

Look, I don't mind that President Arbusto engaged in some fancy footwork to avoid antagonizing his hosts. The secret to being boring, after all, is to tell everything. But when the President lays out a three-point plan to address rising gas prices, and two of the three points - suspension of deposits to the SPR, which will have negligible effect on prices, and an investigation that will never happen - are entirely symbolic, is it too much to ask that the press take a look at the rest of the package? My sense is that the rule waivers are the real point here, and they have little to do with controlling prices at the pump.

No one is asking whether waiving environmental regulations requiring the addition of ethanol to motor fuel will actually lower prices. Instead, we're told (to the extent we're told anything at all) that the rules are creating "bottlenecks." Interestingly enough, however, those "bottlenecks" don't seem to be hurting the bottom lines of the oil companies, which are posting record profits. The free market works in mysterious ways.

It's good to have friends who are worried about their place in history.

 

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