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Bad policies to blame for gas costs, senator says
By David Beery | Daily Herald Staff

Senator Richard Durbin, right and U.S. Representative Bill Foster address the issue of rising gasoline prices at a news conference Thursday in Elgin..


Christopher Hankins | Staff Photographer

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., meets with the Daily Herald editorial board to discuss his various initiatives..


Joe Lewnard | Staff Photographer

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Published: 5/30/2008 12:11 AM

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Consumers are stuck with high gas prices, U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Thursday, because the nation made bad policy decisions while oil was inexpensive and because President Bush will not confront oil executives.

Durbin, of Springfield, told the Daily Herald editorial board that Congress erred by failing to follow up on its mid-1970s mandate, issued during that era's energy crisis, that automakers build more fuel-efficient cars. Durbin said lawmakers acquiesced to Detroit's complaints instead of imposing progressively higher mileage standards.

Durbin said there is no quick fix now, but the Bush administration could help.

He said: "I believe any other president, at this moment in time, looking at what's happening to our economy, would have brought the oil company executives to the Oval Office and said, 'We've got to have a good-faith effort by you to keep costs under control.'"

Durbin said oil companies are entitled to profits but not to quarter after quarter of record-setting profits. He declined to say what profit margin he would find acceptable for the industry.

Durbin was among senators who last week grilled oil executives, questioning their profits and compensation. Executives said they have invested their earnings in searching for new sources of oil and that Congress impedes the effort by barring new domestic production, offshore and in Alaska.

On Thursday, Durbin said gas prices threaten to tip the economy into recession and constitute a hardship for working Americans.

"I believe we've hit that tipping point where consumers and businesses and farmers and truckers and airlines realize that the world has changed and now they have to change, but some of them can't," he said.

Durbin pressed the issue Thursday during an appearance at an Elgin gas station with Bill Foster, the Democrat recently elected to succeed Republican Dennis Hastert in the state's 14th Congressional District.

Durbin acknowledged that the Federal Trade Commission, now acting on his request to probe possible price gouging, probably will not find a smoking gun. Yet he said he would be remiss if he failed to pose the question.

Responding last week to Durbin's criticism of the oil industry, the executive director of the Illinois Petroleum Council called Durbin part of the problem, citing issues similar to those raised by oil company executives.

"He opposes importing oil from Canada and opposes building new refineries. You can't have it both ways," David Sykuta said.

Durbin said Thursday: "I'm not opposed to expanding refineries, nor am I opposed to importing oil in an environmentally responsible way. But I have a responsibility that goes beyond trying to find the ticket for the cheapest possible gasoline if that ticket is expensive in terms of the life and health of people I represent."