The price of gas at the pump in my neck o’ the woods has already smashed the $5 ceiling, and suddenly, people seem to be a lot less concerned with the plight of the porcupine caribou than they are with the plight of their personal economic situations.

Two years ago, when Nancy Pelosi pledged her new congressional majority would “do something” about gas prices, the big fear was that gas might eventually reach three dollars a gallon.

Two years later, with the national average exceeding four bucks a gallon, Pelosi is leading the congressional chorus demanding the White House “do something” about gas prices.

This week, the president called on the Congress to lift the ban on offshore oil drilling, in place since 1981. The Congressional Research Service estimated 86 billion barrels of oil plus 420 trillion cubic feet of natural gas are available on the U.S. outer continental shelf alone.

However, 85 percent of it is off-limits, and 97 percent is undeveloped. That doesn’t include 10.4 billion barrels estimated in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which would be the largest producing oil field in the Northern Hemisphere – if we were allowed to drill there.

At the time Congress imposed the drilling ban, America’s dependence on foreign oil was hovering at around 30 percent as America emerged from the ’70s OPEC energy crisis.

The Alaskan Wildlife Refuge is believed to contain enough oil to meet America’s energy needs for decades. The area of interest is about 2,000 acres – out of a total area of more than 9 million acres. If ANWR were a newspaper, the area in question would be the relative size of a single letter on the page.

Congress imposed a ban on drilling at ANWR out of concern that it might upset the natural habitat of the porcupine caribou.

To make matters even worse, Congress imposed a moratorium on building new refineries. Since demand can no longer be met with our inadequate refineries, we have had to resort to importing refined petroleum products. This has further driven up fuel prices. And it has also further increased the hemorrhage of American dollars abroad and endangered our overall economy.

As a result, America’s dependence on foreign suppliers has increased from just under a third when the exploration ban was imposed to nearly 70 percent today.

The environmentalists in the Congress oppose new oil exploration because they want to force America to wean itself off oil and into alternative energy sources. So the higher gas prices go, the more it will spur investigation into alternative energy, the thinking goes.

I believe that alternative energy sources need to be immediately sought by all means. But I believe that such fuel as hydrogen should be perfected, rather than converting food into ethanol and starving millions of hungry people. However, in the process, we need to make sure that a viable American nation will survive to need the new fuel.

While the environmentalist elite are munching on their granola bars and sipping Evian water (Evian is naive spelled backwards), those Americans who can’t afford the latest fad in solar energy, have no room for a windmill and can’t afford to junk their old gas guzzlers are wondering just how tough things will have to get for the porcupine caribou after all.

Despite the congressional assurances that they are just doing the will of the people, the people, according to a recent Gallup poll, want to lift the ban on off-shore drilling by a margin of 57 to 41 percent. Almost 80 percent of those surveyed for the Washington Post-ABC poll said high gasoline prices now pose a financial hardship.

Chief among the slogans among those who oppose inconveniencing the caribou is the mantra, “We can’t drill our way out of this mess.” Probably not, although we wouldn’t be in this mess in the first place if we had been drilling all along.

But if nothing else, lifting the ban on drilling would wake up the Saudis. Despite all the blather about increasing demand from China and India, the Saudis would much rather sell America oil than compete with it. Four dollar a gallon gas is almost enough to wake up America’s sleeping giant. If the Saudis are smart, they’ll flood the market with excess production until the price at the pump lulls it back to sleep again.

If an answer to this latest energy crisis is found, we need not to squander the short reprieve as we have done in the past. We need to harness the same American ingenuity that took us to the moon and find another energy source.

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