The whiff of oil

FORGET for a moment the fragrances of summer: new-mown hay, freshly manicured lawns, wildflowers, and roses. There's another scent in the air - a more acrid aroma that denotes a shift in global economic and strategic concerns. The scent is that of oil - crude oil, the type that eventually oozes through the global distribution processes to the consumer at the gas pump. Oil use is up sharply. And the cost at the pump is once again on the rise, reflecting higher demand as well as the increase in crude oil prices.

The United States trade deficit jumped sharply in May to $14.4 billion, as imports climbed to their highest level. Significantly, oil imports led the increase in imports.

Part of the reason for the oil price increase is the turbulence in the Persian Gulf. Crude prices jumped above $22 a barrel Wednesday after reports that Iraqi warplanes had attacked Iranian oil fields and that Iran might hit US targets.

Still, domestic US usage is up sharply. Americans are once again taking to their highways. Conservation is down, waste on the increase.

Unfortunately, there is no meaningful US energy policy at this juncture. This is apart, of course, from the administration's decision to reflag Kuwaiti tankers moving through the Gulf - and assuming this is an ``energy'' as well as ``geopolitical'' policy. The Senate has gotten into the picture: It has just voted to repeal the windfall-profits tax on oil companies, which proponents claim may eventually help boost US production - but the law would have ended in 1991 anyway.

The administration should be reminding citizens of the need for energy conservation. And regarding the Gulf, questions have to be asked about a military policy that, despite its intention, puts upward - rather than downward - pressure on world oil prices.

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