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Ochenski opinion: Consumers hosed at the pump again

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It seldom works out well when the government prioritizes the profits of mega-corporations over the welfare of the nation and its citizens. The latest example is the hosing everyday Americans are getting at the gas pump so they can get to work, take the kids to school or drive to a grocery store to keep their families fed.

Despite the longstanding propaganda about “energy independence,” the simple truth is that we have been betrayed by lawmakers who once again kow-tow to the demands of the oil and gas industry.

You’d have to be a certain age to remember the Arab oil embargo of 1973-74 and the scenes of Americans waiting in long lines to get gas before the stations ran out — which many did. The Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) quadrupled the price of its oil and simply stopped all oil shipments to the United States and other nations that supported and re-supplied Israel during the 1973 Yom-Kippur Arab-Israeli War.

Faced with an immediate shortage of fuel for transportation as well as home and business heating, the federal government took steps to meet the widespread crises significantly disrupting the lives and livelihood of its citizens and businesses and even curtailing the ability of the government to function.

To put it mildly, the actions imposed by the government were both drastic and extremely unpopular. In one of his last acts before leaving office, Republican President Richard Nixon rationed fuel supplies and signed into law a 55 mile per hour national speed limit. The goal was to ensure that vehicles would be getting the best mileage possible to stretch what supplies the nation had on hand ... but it was almost impossible to adhere to, particularly in places like Montana where long distances were routinely required.

Following Nixon’s infamous departure, Republican President Gerald Ford signed into law the the Energy Policy and Conservation Act of 1975, which set vehicle fuel standards and prohibited exporting most domestically produced crude oil and created the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.

Its long reliance on imported oil obviously put the nation at enormous risk and so was born the call for “energy independence.” Despite the often-severe environmental impacts of quickly expanded exploration and production, the concept of meeting Americans’ energy needs with American-produced fuels made sense in many ways. It’s long been known that fossil fuels are finite and will eventually run out. Hence, keeping the nation’s petroleum production in sync with our consumption conserved these finite resources, ensuring national and economic security and avoiding foreign-induced supply crises.

Between 2007 and 2016 a vast expansion in fracking — using high-pressure injection of liquids and sand to force oil out of shale — grew U.S. oil production by 75 percent and natural gas production by 39 percent. Awash in oil, the mega-corporations decided it was time to end the export ban and in 2015, Congress and Democrat President Obama acceded to their demands.

So here we are again almost 50 years after the Arab oil embargo paralyzed the nation. Having foolishly decided to supply the world with oil to benefit oil and gas corporations, our citizens must now pay the price — which is projected to send home-heating costs skyrocketing this winter.

Clearly, Congress and President Biden should re-consider an export ban on U.S. fossil fuels to conserve our finite resources and achieve “energy independence” by matching domestic production to consumption. Since the primary function of government is to ensure the welfare of its citizens — not the already-bloated profits of rapacious multinational energy corporations — it’s time for our leaders to do just that.

George Ochenski writes from Helena. His column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's opinion page. 

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