Rein in reckless oil speculators President Bush's call for lifting the quarter-century ban on offshore oil drilling has been called "cruelly misleading" — and rightly so. The president knows exploiting our coastlines won't bring down gasoline prices any time soon. In fact, a recent report from inside his energy office found that increasing offshore drilling will have no significant impact on gas prices for decades.
To lower gas prices much sooner and by an estimated 25 percent to 50 percent, we must rein in speculators who have been able to bid up crude oil prices to unrealistic and shocking highs, largely because of a legal loophole that, in effect, unleashed insider trading for the past few years.
Oil now hovers around $135 a barrel, but recent congressional testimony from a leading industry executive revealed the price of crude should be no more than $55 per barrel, given the rules of supply and demand. That means pump prices for regular unleaded should be about $2.28 a gallon — not more than $4.
This is why I have introduced legislation, S. 3134, that would ban all unregulated speculative trading in oil futures. If Congress passes this bill, I believe we can bring gas prices back down to earth.
Meantime, the oil companies loudly will be claiming they need to drill off the coasts of Florida and California. They will argue that this is going to increase the supply of oil. But they won't be telling you they are not drilling on 32-million of 39-million acres already under lease from the federal government in the Gulf of Mexico. And they won't be telling you that more than 8-million new acres they got in the gulf two years ago has done nothing to bring down prices. The industry should be sinking wells in areas already under lease, before demanding control of millions of new acres or destroying long-protected lands.
Clearly, Americans are being gouged. But we cannot allow the administration to take advantage of the situation to give away the store before the president leaves office. Instead, we need to reduce gas prices by curbing profiteering and excessive speculation. That's a solution for the short term. For the long run, we have to rapidly develop alternative fuels and vehicles, like cars that run on hydrogen, not petroleum.
Bill Nelson, U.S. senator, Washington Against the wind | June 8 story on funding hurricane insurance
Politicians, pay attention
On June 8, your paper published a newsworthy article about a group of Tampa Bay businessmen who have a viable proposal for the Florida Legislature on how to fund hurricane insurance. According to your article they have courted legislators, regulators, economists and Cabinet officials and received no response or little interest in their idea.
When I saw this same group of businessmen on Fox News last week, the idea that they still have to promote their plan and beat down doors for our Legislature to even consider it is beyond my comprehension.
It appears that we have a group of intelligent, successful businessmen asking the right questions, thinking through strategies and presenting an out-of-the-box potential solution to a huge problem. This plan needs to be studied in depth.
And what is going on with our elected officials? Are they so embroiled in their own agendas and campaigns that they can't take time to contemplate a unique concept that could significantly cut insurance premiums and prevent a future financial catastrophe? Are they so insular and egocentric that any new ideas or dissenting viewpoints outside the Capitol are dismissed?
We need politicians with open minds, who not only welcome but also aggressively court new thinking on important issues and who won't give up until we have this hurricane insurance problem solved.
M. Lyons, St. Petersburg
Sharing the risks
If it becomes inevitable that drilling off the coast of Florida will happen, our state and federal representatives should negotiate for a national disaster fund. If we Floridians are being asked to take on the risk of offshore drilling for the good of the country then the rest of the nation should be able to step up and share the risk of hurricanes.
At least when the oil ruins our beaches we could have affordable homeowners insurance.
Marion Cooper, St. Petersburg
Court gives inmates rights | June 13, story
Defending the Constitution
When I agreed to become the leader of my precinct, I thought my duties would include stuffing envelopes, registering voters and providing refreshments. But I pledged to uphold and defend the Constitution, which will be my first duty in light of the criticism of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to uphold detainees' rights.
Our system of justice has worked fine for more than 200 years, but now some want to "cut and run" from its most basic principles because they don't think it can stand up to our enemies.
If they're guilty, it will be proven. If they're acquitted, they must not be guilty. But how do you determine a person's guilt or innocence without subjecting them to our system of justice?
Some have already concluded that the Guantanamo prisoners are guilty, and they probably are, so why is President Bush afraid to try them in a court of law, fairly for all the world to see?
I don't know about President Bush, the Justice Department, and almost half the Supreme Court justices, but this committeewoman takes her oath very seriously.
Madeline Orio, Tampa
Make us pay $10 per gallon for gas | June 15, Perspective story
Use the funds well
Professor Frederick Strobel is right on the mark in advocating a substantial increase in the federal gas tax. I would add a provision that the increased funds be put into an "energy independence trust fund," similar to the gasoline highway trust fund that was used to build the interstate highway system. This would prevent the energy fund from being frittered away on nonenergy programs.
The energy independence trust could be used to fund the mitigating credits to the American driving public that Strobel suggests. More important, the energy trust should be used to provide massive federal incentives to consumers and businesses to "prime the pump" in developing a wide range of alternative energy sources such as: wind, solar, ocean-wave, hydrogen fuel cells, hybrid vehicles.
With this pump-priming, manufacturers could reach a "critical mass," and production of those technologies could become competitive and America would have several new booming industries.
Robert Stevens, Palm Harbor
Mohamed guilty plea
Sign of a weak case
As I read about the Ahmed Mohamed guilty plea in the Times, it appears to me that this is yet another situation in which the government does not have a case. In exchange for pleading guilty to providing material support to terrorists, all the real charges were dropped (explosives, etc.).
Threatened with life in prison, Mohamed agreed to this, and the government learned from previous experience (the Sami Al-Arian trial) that a Tampa jury won't convict unless there is a crime.
Melva Underbakke, Temple Terrace