Tuesday, August 30, 2005

An open letter to residents of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama

Here in Wisconsin, our thoughts and prayers are with you. It is clear that the damage and destruction your region has suffered from Hurricane Katrina will be severe and lasting. The hurricane didn’t just hit the Gulf Coast, it hit America – and we will stand with you in your recovery.

Unfortunately, some Wisconsin State Legislators have looked at your situation and seen naked political opportunity. One of my state senators has sent a letter to President Bush asking him to release oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to make sure gas prices here don’t spike due to your devastating loss.

In a time of crisis, it is unconscionable to me that politicians can be callous enough to use this tragic event as merely a platform for political opportunity. Before a single rescue crew had been through what is left of the streets of New Orleans, Biloxi, or Mobile, legislators were pandering to the press to get a cheap story. Before a single drowned body has been pulled from a flooded home, some of my legislators were more worried about whether we here in the Midwest may pay a few extra cents at the pump.

Releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserves is an extremely complicated proposition with international ramifications. If the fuel is released, one of the problems we may face is a lack of refineries, not a shortage of crude oil. Having all the oil in the world won’t help us if the refineries cannot process it. The infrastructure in the Gulf Coast Region may be severely damaged, which would make transporting this oil costly. Releasing oil from the strategic reserves could signal a shortage crisis to the futures markets, which would actually drive the price upwards. Thus, releasing the oil in reserve may serve little purpose other than to spawn more press releases for political opportunists. While it may still be a good idea, the timing of this request is disturbing.

The only role Wisconsin State Legislators should be playing in this tragedy is to urge their constituents to donate food, clothing, and money to the relief effort. Nobody likes high gas prices, but it is a global problem. Unless a Wisconsin State Senator can convince India and China to reduce their demand for oil, altering the state’s gas tax is the most significant act we as a state can take, and we have not been willing to do so.

In the last day, we have seen video of streets and buildings underwater, power lines down, and substantial wind damage to structures. We have seen video of heroic rescues of people trapped on their roofs, and those are the lucky ones who managed to make it out of their homes. No doubt rescue crews will find attics with fingernail scratches in the ceilings where people were sentenced to death.

I truly cannot believe one could look at that scene and immediately worry about gas prices in Wisconsin, rather than the well being of families who have suffered casualties or total property loss. Apparently our legislators are willing to step over a few hundred caskets in search of an easy press hit.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you, and I urge all the residents of Wisconsin to help the relief effort to their full capabilities. Please make a contribution to the relief effort at the American Red Cross website or choose a worthwhile charity that is helping residents of the area. While kind Wisconsinites are helping you get back on your feet, Judy Robson and John Gard will be sending you a bill for the extra buck per tank they have to pay when they fill up at the pump.

Sincerely,

Dennis York

Note: This post does not constitute a return to blogging.