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Our View: Gas price worries could fuel change

Some of the predictions are frightening.

At least one expert suggests that gas prices could rise to $12 a gallon before they level off. Others predict the peak will hit about $7 per gallon in 2009.

If they're right, our nation's economy could be in for even tougher times. Things are bad enough as it is.

What's the solution? A lot of people have some ideas, but few proposals seem like the perfect answer.

U.S. Senator Herb Kohl is trying to go after oil producing countries that appear to be fixing prices.

Claims that growing demand for petroleum in the U.S. has resulted in higher prices are false, Kohl said. Some 571 million barrels of petroleum products were shipped into the U.S. market in January 1981, compared to 573 million barrels in February 2008.

Kohl said demand has been flat, but prices continue to skyrocket.

Legislation that Kohl backs would allow the Department of Justice to bring action against price setting and collusion in limiting oil supplies.

While it's an interesting tactic, the effort will likely have little impact on the price we're paying at the pump.

A more interesting proposal comes from State Rep. Marlin Schneider (D-Wisconsin Rapids) who is calling for a special session of the Legislature to deal with the energy crisis.

Among his ideas to cut oil consumption, and thus bring down prices:

• Four-day work weeks with staggered schedules for employees.

• Reduced speed limits.

• Rearranging school athletic conferences to reduce travel.

• Providing incentives for the use of alternative energy sources.

• Restricting new building construction.

Across the river in Minnesota, at least one school district is switching to a four-day school week next year to save money on transportation. It's an idea that will likely gain traction if gas prices continue upward.

Other state and national leaders are suggesting a significant hike in the federal gas tax (say 50 cents more per gallon) to encourage greater conservation. That's an idea that independent presidential candidate John Anderson had in 1980, but it lost him a lot of votes. Maybe the time has finally come?

Whatever our state and country does to address the gas price dilemma, it's clear we must lessen our dependence on foreign oil to have a lasting impact on the situation. If significant conservation is accomplished, prices will stabilize and possibly come down.

If we can't cut back, and alternative energy sources are not readily developed, more serious discussions about opening up federal land for oil exploration must take place.

The only thing that's clear is that we can't sit back and do nothing. Our leaders, and we consumers, must act on several fronts to turn things around.