FOR THE WEEK OF MAY 01, 2006
Gasoline price surge rocks families, economy and politics
In addition to reporting on the debate over responses to gas prices, newspapers show the local impact and give money-saving tips. Assign students to find one or more recent articles that tell how costly gasoline changes behavior in your area or that show how drivers can reduce fuel use.
Coverage of rising gas prices falls into a category that editors call consumer news or "coping news" -– reports with practical information readers can use in their daily lives. Challenge class members to spot other examples of this approach in the newspaper – perhaps involving products, entertainment, food or health.
Beyond factual news articles on gasoline prices, newspapers participate in the policy debate by sharing opinions from various sources –- including drivers. Ask students to look at any issue from last week or this week and see how many different presentations they can find of personal viewpoints or the newspaper’s own opinion.
Fueling up cars, vans and SUVs costs $40 to $50 these days because gas prices across the United States are near $3 a gallon -– or more in many regions. That affects commuters, vacationers, teens and companies operating large fleets. Widespread economic strains put pressure on politicians in Congress and the White House, who are responding with different ideas about what to do.
President Bush, who says there’s no evidence that oil companies are forcing up prices to earn more money, wants the government to raise fuel-efficiency standards for cars. He also says the situation shows the need to decrease dependence on imported oil by developing alternative fuels.
Members of both political parties in Congress want to suspend the federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon for two to three months. Republicans propose opening the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling, a sensitive move rejected several times by the Senate. Democrats push for rolling back tax cuts for the oil industry to help pay energy bills for low-income Americans, small businesses and farmers by providing a tax rebate. Others suggest an "excess profits" tax on oil companies, something the president opposes strongly. Environmentalists say $3-a-gallon gas is a reason to carpool, use mass transit, walk or ride bikes.
What’s going on? Crude oil prices on world markets have reached a record level of about $60 per barrel or more, partly because of increased demand from developing nations such as China and India. At the same time, U.S. oil refiners now are required to mix high-priced ethanol with gasoline to produce cleaner-burning fuel. In addition, 3 percent of America’s refining capacity is still out of service because of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita last year.
Columnist says: "A gas tax is a far better way to encourage conservation . . . [than] mandating more fuel-efficient cars. . . . That would give investors the incentive to find cheaper alternatives, and the market would sort out the winner – natural gas, ethanol, methanol, soy diesel, whatever works." – John Tierney, New York Times
Environmentalist says: "The single most effective way to curb oil use is requiring auto manufacturers give consumers cars and trucks that go significantly farther on a gallon of gas. To help drivers, the president and Congress should increase the fuel economy standards for the average automobile to 40 miles per gallon over the next decade. . . . In the long term, we will have to tap into alternatives to oil." -- David Friedman, Union of Concerned Scientists
Front Page Talking Points Archive