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Can man who dismisses global warming really fix gas crisis?

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We’ve done quite a bit of editorializing on the price of gas in our pages, starting with a reasoned position that gas is expensive because it is a valuable, finite commodity and is still cheaper by the gallon than things like coffee and beer. We urged our readers to carpool, drive less, use public transportation and ride bikes.

After Katrina hit and gas prices jumped again, we took a look at how gas prices are set and why they can rise dramatically over a 24-hour period. In the course of the examination we concluded that we are getting screwed at the pump, particularly in North Carolina where, though prices have yet to break the three-dollar mark, our state gas tax is the seventh highest in the nation ‘— 17.5 cents per gallon plus 7 percent of the wholesale cost.

Again, we viewed the situation as distasteful but a necessary component of the price of doing business ‘— NC has the second-largest system of state-maintained roadways in the nation (Texas has the biggest) and our gas tax pays for the roads that take you out to the beach or in to the mountains, or just to work and back.

We never proffered a solution to the problem, believing, perhaps naïvely, that the free market and our elected officials were doing the best they could to ease our burden when we fill our tanks.

But now things are getting out of control. Gas prices topped $3.25 a gallon in our nation’s capital last week and on the same day in Greensboro they reached as high as $2.99 in the Lawndale/Battleground area.

And there is no end in sight.

Sure, Bush said last Tuesday that he would check into allegations that the price of gasoline has been illegally manipulated by the big oil companies (Exxon Mobil sales are on track to top $100 billion in 2006, with profits set to surpass 2005’s record-setting year). He also temporarily suspended all environmental regulations that relate to the production of gasoline, a move he says will step up production and ease more gasoline into the supply.

Forgive us for our cynicism, but we don’t think that Bush ‘— whose oil industry résumé includes names like Arbusto, Bush Exploration Co., Spectrum 7, Harken Energy and the Persian Gulf nation of Bahrain’— truly has the best interests of the gas-buying public at heart.

And we suspect other motives for the suspension of environmental regulations by the man who does not believe in global warming.

But we have a plan, and it’s not one of those secret, closed-door energy plans like the one Cheney put together with a bunch of CEOs in 2001. It also has benefits for our home state, where we have lots of farmland and a people with a penchant for hush puppies.

We’re talking about biodiesel, an alternative fuel source made from vegetables that burns clean, is as renewable as any agricultural product and, when it’s gathered from deep fryers, smells like French fries.

Think of it: we have acres and acres of land once used for tobacco and hundreds of farmers looking for new cash crops. We may have more deep fryers per capita than any other state. And because of long distances between cities and our visceral attachment to the automobile, we use lots and lots of fuel.

It’s a natural fit ‘— no pun intended ‘— and instead of sapping our dollars like gasoline, this new energy source could give our state’s economy a much-needed boost.

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