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Public can act against gas prices

Oregonians have some say over rapidly rising gasoline prices. But whatever control they have doesn't come from voting for political candidates who profess support for windfall taxes against major oil companies that are recording record profits while Americans suffer at the gas pump.

On Tuesday, AAA of Oregon/Idaho reported that the average cost of regular unleaded gas sold in Oregon jumped 8 cents per gallon this week to $3.75. A month ago, the average cost per gallon was $3.48. One year ago, the average price per gallon was $3.41 - which compares with approximately $2.20 per gallon two years ago.

Gas prices have everyone's attention. National polling indicates that public concern over the price of gasoline outranks the war in Iraq as a prominent issue. A poll conducted last week for the Portland Tribune and KPTV News 12 showed similar gas price worries in the Portland area.

And with the traditional start of summer approaching on Memorial Day weekend, there is a very real chance that gas prices will climb even higher as they often do each summer. Yet, we do not support higher taxation as a strategy for managing gas or diesel fuel prices. Tax surcharges can have long-term, serious, unintended consequences.

In this case, such a consequence could result in U.S. companies reducing their investment in domestic oil field exploration and refinery production, thereby increasing America's dependence on foreign oil.

We think the public instead should respond by cutting consumption. People should drive less and operate vehicles that get better gas mileage. Let traditional economics rule: Lower demand can promote lower prices.

Motorists are cutting back

Locally, a reduction in consumption is starting to happen. Transit ridership is increasing rapidly, TriMet reports. Meanwhile, the city of Portland and local suburban communities are already experiencing a decline in their receipt of state gasoline taxes as motorists buy fewer gallons of gas for their vehicles. In Portland, that shortfall in gas tax revenue is projected to total $2.7 million over the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Nationally, gas consumption is down 0.2 percent compared with a year ago and consumption is expected to decrease by 0.4 percent over the summer.

While these may seem to be small indicators of change, they do add up.

And in contrast to adoption of new taxes - whose impact may be seen years into the future - a reduction in gasoline consumption by frugal consumers will be felt immediately and may actually instigate lower prices, even in the short run.

Here's a partial list of ways to personally reduce your consumption of gas and diesel fuels:

• Plan your automobile trips to cut down on multiple, poorly planned trips.

• Carpool to work or school.

• Expand your use of bus, light rail and streetcar services.

• Walk or bicycle more often.

• Use the phone and call friends instead of driving over for a visit.

• Make sure your car's tires are properly inflated and that your engine is well maintained to operate efficiently.

• Sell or trade in vehicles that get poor gas mileage in favor of more gas-efficient cars or trucks.

• Don't exceed the speed limit when driving on the freeway.

Modest steps such as these will make more of a difference than anything the government can do. And another advantage to personal conservation versus government interference is that the savings will come immediately to your own pocketbook.