Political debate rises along with gas prices
The state is seeking ways to counteract the soaring cost of fuel
As gasoline prices continue to set record highs - topping $5 a gallon on Lanai - state and federal lawmakers are calling for bipartisan efforts at seeking a solution.
The Democrat said the cost of oil should not be a partisan issue
Two days after U.S. Senate Republicans blocked debate on a proposal to impose windfall taxes on oil companies, U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka spoke on the Senate floor to urge more cooperation.
The Bush administration "must work with us to help our families and our communities by finding a way to decrease fuel prices," Akaka, D-Hawaii, said in his floor speech. "Finding a solution should not be a partisan issue."
Democrats say the proposal would guard against "unreasonable" oil company profits while also giving the government more power to address price gouging and oil speculation. Republicans argued the added taxes could lead to higher prices and more oil imports.
Meanwhile, pump prices climb higher.
Hawaii's statewide average for regular self-serve unleaded was at a record high of $4.242 a gallon yesterday, according to AAA's Fuel Gauge Report. The Honolulu average of $4.134 a gallon was an all-time high, as was the nationwide average of $4.060 a gallon.
On Lanai, where gasoline shipments arrive every three months, the price jumped 32 cents to $5.11 a gallon last weekend.
The large price spike is common because of the nature by which gasoline is delivered, said Terry McBarnet, president of Lanai Oil Co., which supplies the motor fuel to the island of about 3,000 residents. Because gasoline is shipped in only every three months, Lanai residents see the increase over that time in one day - when the new shipment is tapped - rather than a gradual increase on a daily basis.
"That's just the nature of it," McBarnet said yesterday. "I've explained it to the people on Lanai. Everybody understands it but nobody likes it. I'm the messenger and it's not easy."
He agrees with Akaka that partisanship needs to be set aside to find solutions.
"Our government should be absolutely ashamed of itself because we can solve this problem, and they simply have chosen not to."
Crude oil prices are expected to average $126 a barrel in 2009, or $4 a barrel higher than this year, as oil supplies and demand will remain tight, Guy Caruso, head of the federal Energy Information Administration, told a congressional hearing yesterday.
Akaka noted how higher fuel costs strain Hawaii's economy.
"The increase in cost for Hawaii's foods is due in large part to the higher cost of transporting the goods to the islands - 80 percent of Hawaii's food products are imported via ship or airplane," he said. "Grocery prices have seen their biggest increase in nearly two decades."
State lawmakers are studying ways to reduce demand for fuel, said House Majority Leader Kirk Caldwell (D, Manoa).
Staff members are studying various ways to reduce traffic, which in turn is expected to cut fuel use and demand. Those alternatives include staggered working hours, a four-day workweek, incentives for allowing workers to telecommute and incentives for driving more fuel-efficient vehicles.
Lawmakers also plan to continue efforts at developing renewable energy sources such as wind, wave, ocean thermal, geothermal and solar power.
"I think we have the sources to do so," Caldwell said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.