Have you been watching prices at the gas pump these days? If you have, you know they’ve been bouncing all over the place—down a couple cents one day and up a quarter the next.  It’s sort of like a game where you follow the bouncing ball, never knowing where it’s going it end up. And it’s even more fun because we all know that gasoline prices, no matter how high they rise this year, are still a lot lower than a year ago. The Iowa Department of Natural Resources monthly survey (www.iowadnr.gov/news/fuel.html) shows that prices at the pump are about $1.50 per gallon lower than the prices in July of 2008, when a gallon almost set you back $4.

The problem is that you have no control over this bouncing ball. Someone else—most likely someone in a foreign country—has a tight grip on much of the world’s petroleum and has a lot of influence in determining oil prices today, and where they will go in the future.

It’s short-sighted, and frankly naïve, to think that America is past the energy crisis that gripped us last year.

That’s why it’s critical for the country to push forward on research and innovation into developing more biofuels, wind energy and other technologies to replace the petroleum we import from foreign countries. It’s just as important to boost our energy exploration efforts to expand sources of oil, natural gas, coal and other energy sources. These can help wean our country from the tightening grip of foreign oil. And, even with the price lower at the pump, we’ve got to keep up conservation efforts and find ways to make each gallon go farther.

All of these points —research, innovation, exploration and conservation—are in the comprehensive energy policy which was developed last year by the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation. And they are just as important today as they were when it was developed last year as gas prices edged to, and sometimes past, $4 per gallon. That’s why we continue to ask consumers to “Join the Ride”( www.jointherideiowa.com/) to a better energy future.

A far-reaching comprehensive energy policy is critical because the factors that led to the fuel price spirals in 2008 have not gone away. It’s a pretty good bet that when the world economy begins to recover, the gasoline prices will rebound and will begin to march right back to the levels reached in 2008, or even higher, once again putting consumers over a barrel.

Then there’s the uncomfortable fact so much of the petroleum we use is pumped out of the ground in nations that are unfriendly to the United States. You can bet those governments are searching for ways to jack up prices again, drive up our trade deficit and throw another punch at our economy.

Sure it’s kind of fun to watch gasoline prices jump up and fall down. But the country’s energy policy is not fun and games and we can’t afford to lose focus on the real issue: the need to develop a long-term and comprehensive energy policy. Otherwise, the $4 gas prices we saw last year, might seem like they were from the good old days.

Written by Dirck Steimel
Dirck is the news services manager for Iowa Farm Bureau.