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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 April 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Washington diary: The price at the pump
By Matt Frei
BBC News, Washington

Petrol is the new indispensable staple and the $3 gallon is to America what the over-priced potato once was to Ireland.

A customer looks at a gas pump where the prices have climbed over three dollars per gallon
Americans are very sensitive to the cost of filling up
It is causing a torrent of suffering and heartache.

Bewailed in country songs and popular ballads, it is forcing ordinary people to do extraordinary things - like car pooling, riding the bike to work, selling their second SUV, or doing a "walk-thru" at their local burger joint instead of a "drive-thru".

It is even forcing a former oilman from a family of oilmen to wax lyrical about ethanol.

Yes, George W Bush, the self confessed oil addict-in-chief, who was suckled on Four-Star Texaco, can't stop talking about renewable fuels like ethanol, prairie grass and cow manure.

Unfortunately he does so with the same faltering enthusiasm that a former smoker enthuses about nicotine patches - or, for that matter a former alcoholic about alcohol-free lager and wine gums.

The passion is lacking.

Committed to corn?

You can tell by the way W grapples with the grammar and the unfamiliar vocabulary of renewable energy - hydrocarbons, hybrid technology etc... unfamiliar mouthfuls that don't exactly trip off the tongue, do they?

Consider the irony: The Texan who was widely accused of invading Iraq because of oil is brought to his knees by petrol prices

Standing in front of a giant frieze of corn fields at the Renewable Fuels Association in Washington, he declared over and over again: "Ethanol from corn is good for us, good for the environment, good for America!"

"But we can't use all the corn for fuel," W, the farmer-economist, intoned to his grateful audience. "'Cos we gotta eat some!"

Indeed. This reminded me of the occasion a few years ago when Mr Bush bit all too hastily into a raw cob of corn to please a potential voter.

Thank God, he's not seeking re-election this time.

Kicking the habit

I'm sure the president is totally genuine about his desire to help America kick the oil habit.

It will extricate him from a part of the world that he has surely come to loathe.

It is a conversion as dramatic and potentially life-changing as his ability - two decades ago - to shun Johnny Walker and embrace Jesus Christ.

President George W Bush
Mr Bush voiced support for renewables - but did he stumble?
In America, this painful journey is considered a badge of honour, not something to be embarrassed about.

"The president coming clean about his alcohol problem and then staying sober - now that shows character."

This was a common refrain on the campaign trail. Eat your liver out, Charles Kennedy!

The reason why this president is now so keen about renewable energy also reflects the seemingly un-renewable nature of his approval ratings.

W is hovering a mere whisker above the 30% approval line.

He has joined that exclusive club whose former members include Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter.

Ironic fall

The three Is are largely to blame: Iraq, illegal immigration and indictments.

But what is really giving George a stomach ache is the big G: Gas.

The price of gas at the pump is costing the president most heavily in the polls.

Some Democrats are calling for a cap on the oil company's huge profits, on a windfall tax, and on raiding the strategic reserve of petroleum.

But so far Mr Bush has remained loyal to his tribe of oilmen and his economic principles.

But consider the irony: the Texan who was widely accused of invading Iraq because of oil is brought to his knees by petrol prices.

It is the Chevron version of Hamlet.

Personally, I don't know what all the fuss is about.

Petrol in the UK is averaging almost 1 per litre - that's more than twice as expensive as here.

I have just dragged my family on a driving holiday through Arizona and New Mexico.

We drove 1,000 miles in a minivan and only filled up twice for less than $100. Wise up, America. Things could be so much worse!


Matt Frei Troubled times
Rollercoaster ride as America wakes up to economic crisis

Jan - Jun 2008
Jul - Dec 2007
Jan - Jun 2007
2006 entries

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


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