Now that the summer travel season ó or what might be left of one ó has arrived, vacationersí worst fears have become reality. Gasoline costs $4 a gallon or more, and who knows where itís headed from here. Airlines are tacking on fees for everything from luggage to snacks. And the added burden of transportation expenses is affecting the retail prices of food, utilities and practically everything we buy.

Congress rounded up the usual suspects ó oil company executives ó so they could be seen publicly expressing their shock and outrage, but thereís plenty of blame to go around. They include opportunistic market speculators, OPEC and Latin American dictators. Add to that the demand from expanding industrial areas in Asia, and the limits on production and refining that environmental concerns bring to the equation, and pressure on prices continues to be felt.

Itís not as though we havenít had plenty of warning. Itís been 35 years since the first energy crisis alerted Americans to the precarious situation of the worldís petroleum supply and the perils of depending too much on foreign sources. Given that fact, Congress could add itself to the list of suspects to be grilled as committees go about looking to assign blame.

So itís time to stop trying to blame someone and start working toward ensuring Americaís future energy independence. Most citizens are already doing their part by driving less and opting for more efficient vehicles and appliances. Alternative energy sources must play a role. In the short term, economic side-effects could be painful. But government and industry can hasten the transition.

Many believe that residents of the United States have come to a point in history when our way of life is being altered dramatically because of the cost of energy. Disposable income that has been devoted to luxuries, recreation or entertainment is being diverted to other needs as prices climb.

Even with our best efforts, though, the nationís dependence on imported oil will not be eliminated in the near future. And any drop in oil prices cannot be considered cause to back off on resolve. If that happens, the economic and social repercussions could be drastic.

Brownwood Bulletin