With the summer driving season starting this weekend, there are signs that the Bush Administration is giving belated attention to some of the ideas that Sen. Bingaman suggested, beginning over two months ago, on how to help lower the soaring price of gasoline. Given the hardships that these high prices are having on American families and businesses, we are thankful that the Administration is at last showing interest. One of the 13 actions called for in Bingaman’s letters is for the Administration to exert greater diplomatic pressure on OPEC to up its oil output. So, we were pleased to read reports that Energy Secretary Abraham met with OPEC representatives in Europe last weekend. It’s unfortunate that the Administration waited so long to start coaxing the cartel, but at least it’s a start. The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that Secretary Abraham said that the U.S. is looking for ways to increase refining capacity. One idea said to be under review is to see what Federal actions might help streamline the permit system and allow accelerated expansion of existing refineries. That, too, is a Bingaman recommendation: In his March 24 letter, he urged President Bush to immediately start a process which identifies “specific options for improving regulatory practices or streamlining permitting processes in order to increase U.S. refining capacity.” Bingaman recommended that the government report back to Congress and to the public within six months. Another Cabinet official, Commerce Secretary Evans, said in an Associated Press interview yesterday that the Bush Administration was exploring the possibility of reducing the number of boutique blends of gasoline that are required in different parts of the country. Once again, that’s another suggestion in Bingaman’s letter: "I recommend you direct the Administrator of the EPA, with technical assistance as needed from the Secretary of Energy … to reduce the overall number of fuel specifications by at least a factor of five, and preferably a factor of 10." (Bingaman expanded on this proposal in a second letter to DOE and EPA, asking the Administration to analyze the impact that boutique fuels have on our nation’s gasoline marketplace.) Bush officials have tried to shift blame for high gasoline prices to Democratic opposition to the energy bill. But the stalled 1,200+ page bill and the failed conference report, by all independent accounts, will do nothing to affect gasoline prices. Although the Administration has yet to reply to the letters that Sen. Bingaman has sent, it appears that they recognize the value of his suggestions. We hope that Bingaman’s suggestions for increasing domestic oil and gas production, and those regarding suspending oil deliveries to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, will get attention from the Administration, too.
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