Gasoline prices are rising, averaging 41 cents higher a gallon than last year, so once again we are hearing the familiar refrain that this means we need to drill more.

Not surprisingly, we are hearing this from incoming Republicans who will now be running the U.S. House of Representatives. They are eager to find any excuse to support the agenda of the oil industry, which is to have increased access to land for drilling purposes and to preserve lucrative tax breaks and subsidies.

Beware.

We cannot drill our way to low prices. And as we have seen with past price spikes, the industry’s tax breaks serve only to pad their profits, not keep prices down. In the name of deficit reduction, Congress is about to consider cutting services that provide benefits to tens of millions of Americans. There is no excuse for even considering cuts to vital services to poor and working Americans while the oil industry continues to claim more than $5 billion a year in tax breaks.

Market speculation almost assuredly has played a role in rising gas prices. We haven’t yet reregulated these markets, and we need to.

Despite the BP disaster, Congress still hasn’t passed a spill bill that would require offshore drilling to be safer for the environment. Lawmakers should be focusing on that instead of throwing more bones to the industry.

As prices rise, lawmakers also should consider a windfall profits tax. The money should be used to pay for clean energy, energy efficiency and mass transit. If we invested adequately in such alternative energy sources, we wouldn’t have to hear that familiar refrain when oil prices go up.

Tyson Slocum is the Director of Public Citizen’s Energy Program

Photo by L.C Nottaasen

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