Cantwell, Inslee looking for an easy scapegoat

As if it weren’t frustrating enough having to pay $45 to $60 every time we fill up our car’s gas tank, now we

also have to endure the grandstanding and opportunism of two of Washington’s highest-ranking U.S. elected officials along with it.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (whose local chief of staff is former North Kitsap Commissioner Chris Endresen, come to think of it) last week joined U.S. Rep. Jay Inslee in sending a letter to President Bush demanding he establish an energy fraud task force within the Department of Justice for the purpose of investigating whether U.S. oil companies are guilty of conspiring to fix prices.

Not that there’s any evidence of collusion, mind you.

In fact, Washington Attorney General Rob McKenna earlier this month released a detailed analysis of gas prices around the state and found no evidence whatsoever of price-fixing, gouging or any other form of market manipulation.

McKenna undertook the study at the request of Washington consumers alarmed by rising gas prices and wide disparities in price in from community to community.

In addition to a series of public meetings conducted around the state, the probe also involved an in-depth review of the numbers by a University of Washington economist.

The report’s conclusion was that a variety of factors contribute to the cost of fuel, including the complexities of a West Coast market dominated by green-but-gas-guzzling California; challenges with petroleum refineries already operating near capacity (with no more on the horizon anytime soon, thanks to short-sighted regulators); and the skyrocketing worldwide costs of crude oil, owing to such not-inconsequential conditions as political instability in the Middle East and rapidly modernizing economies in such places as China and India.

But why deal with complex facts when you can manufacture an easy scapegoat instead?

Instead of chasing shadows in order to divert suspicion from the real culprits in this drama, perhaps Cantwell and Inslee should be asking themselves whether in hindsight their opposition to drilling in a tiny corner of the Actic National Wildlife Reserve was such a good idea.

While they’re at it, instead of faulting private corporations for turning a profit — which, just as a refresher, is exactly what they’re supposed to do — our esteemed lawmakers might start kicking around ideas for actually cutting federal spending, since federal and state taxes account for nearly half of what we’re paying for every gallon at the pump.

Presidential hopeful Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), also pandering for votes, has suggested suspending for the summer driving season the 18.4-cent surcharge the fed slaps on every gallon of gas, and at least one of his Democratic rivals, Sen. Hilary Clinton (D-N.Y), supports the idea.

Of course without a corresponding reduction in federal spending during the same period, it follows that a gas-tax cut would just increase the already-ballooning federal deficit. But at least their idea correctly identifies an actual source of the problem, unlike Cantwell and Inslee, whose only answer is to dream up a boogeyman where none exists.

From a legal standpoint, the idea of suggesting an investigation into corporations that not only haven’t been accused of wrongdoing but have been exonerated every time anyone has taken a serious look at the question strikes us as a case of declaring them guilty until proved innocent.

That’s troubling enough, but from a political standpoint it’s also more than a little tiresome to hear high-ranking U.S. representatives — who presumably passed basic economics courses at some point in their education — deliberately overlooking such fundamental factors as supply and demand to score cheap points with the voters when what’s really needed is a little leadership.

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