Gas pains: Americans drive tons less while oil execs pass boatloads of blame

Due to unrelenting gas price hikes, in April Americans hit the road for 1.4 billion fewer highway miles than a year ago marking a decline of nearly 20 billion miles traveled this year, and nearly 30 billion miles traveled since November, according to the US Department of Transportation.

Pretty amazing numbers considering American's long-held love of everything automobile.

What's more disconcerting to hear though is the government and Big Oil's response to the situation. First up we have the DOT's Secretary Mary Peters saying "We're burning less fuel as energy costs change driving patterns, steer people toward more fuel efficient vehicles and encourage more to use transit. Which is exactly why we need a more effective funding source than the gas tax. History shows that we're going to continue to see congested roads while gas tax revenues decline even further," she said.So she's happy people are driving less but pretty much worried her agency will lose tax revenues for highway and transit funds because they are driving less.

Then we have Big Oil execs, not surprisingly, avoiding any responsibility for the current situation.Chevron CEO David O'Reilly said Big Oil is not to blame for skyrocketing gas prices.

In an interview this week with Wolf Blitzer on CNN's "The Situation Room," Chevron's O'Reilly said rather high demand and a short supply of crude oil were key factors causing gas prices to spike. Despite record profits among major oil companies, O'Reilly downplayed a recent Gallup poll in which Americans said corporate avarice played a role.

In that poll Gallup stated that even though recent results find oil companies being blamed to a greater degree than in 2006, results of a recent Gallup Panel survey suggests that Americans are becoming more aware that high gas prices are a result of many factors beyond simple oil company greed.

"While "oil company greed" remains the most commonly mentioned reason for high gas prices, the percentage saying this has dropped significantly in the past year. Rather, Americans were more likely to cite a variety of other factors -- such as greater demand for oil, the declining value of the US dollar, and market speculators -- as reasons for high gas prices," Gallup stated. This increase in blame for "big oil" from 49% to 60% may also reflect a more general pattern of the public assigning greater responsibility to all government and business institutions for the country's energy problems, Gallup reported.

All of this is in the face of news items like this Network World article: Dice, a job search site for tech pros, recently polled more than 1,500 of them and found that 37% are willing to accept a pay cut of up to 10% in exchange for being allowed to telecommute. Gas price over $4 will do that I guess. That's a pretty startling number of people who really want to work from home. Since the average tech pro makes $74,570 a year, according to Dice's annual salary survey, a 10% pay cut is $7,500 out of your pocket.

And this from CIO magazine: In spite of gas prices now topping $4 per gallon, employers are slow to offer employees the opportunity to telecommute to offset rising transportation costs. According to a recent survey conducted by staffing firm Robert Half International, only 11% of companies surveyed are letting employees work from home as a way to help them curb their commuting costs. In fact, telecommuting remains such a scary concept to employers that they're more inclined to increase mileage reimbursements than-heaven forbid-let employees work from home, according to the Half survey.

Then, just to prove the world really is coming to an end soon, we have OPEC's Secretary General last saying the record-high crude oil price was unbearable. OPEC thinks it's unbearable? In a Reuter's story Abdullah al-Badri also called for measures to curb market speculation, a factor he said is sending prices to unjustified levels. Of course his main point was that OPEC is pumping more than enough oil and high prices reflect factors beyond its control.


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