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Truckers demand fuel tax halt

HARRISBURG -- Traffic choked the state Capitol on Monday as hundreds of tractor-trailers slowly circled the sprawling complex, their horns creating a deafening din.

"Fuel prices are too high. We can't put our kids through college," said J.B. Farrow, a truck driver from Duncannon in Perry County. "People can't heat their homes."

As truckers called upon state and federal lawmakers to eliminate the taxes on diesel fuel, Democratic presidential candidates campaigning in the area offered plans to wean the country off foreign oil. But they had different takes on what the government should do in the short term about gas and diesel prices.

According to economists, the answer should be: nothing.

"Energy prices are going to keep going up. It comes down to a simple story of supply and demand," said Michael Brandl, an economist at the University of Texas-Austin's McComb's School of Business. "We have to start really looking at how do we start moving things from Point A to Point B."

Likewise, eliminating the gas and diesel tax, as the truckers want, is "not gonna happen," Brandl said. "If you can't afford to make a living driving that truck -- this may sound hard and cruel, but maybe you have to do something else."

Sens. Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama support increasing fuel economy standards and spending billions of dollars on alternative fuels research.

Clinton favors keeping more fuel in the market by freezing additions to the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, said campaign spokesman Mark Nevins.

"The reserve is presently at 97 percent capacity; continually adding fuel at the current high prices is expensive," he said.

Two weeks earlier, Clinton had suggested going a step further.

"I would even consider, were I president, releasing some of the Strategic Petroleum Reserves into the marketplace to drive down the price," Clinton said at a Bloomfield gas station.

Obama disagreed.

"When it comes to a federal energy policy, I would be dishonest if I said we've got a lot of short-term answers to bringing down the gas prices. I don't think we do," Obama said, speaking at a biofuel service station in rural Lancaster County.

"The long-term answer is going to be biodiesel, biofuel, investing in more fuel-efficient cars and trucks, reduc(ing) demand," he said. "And as costs are cut in production, we are going to end up seeing lower and lower prices."

Republican Sen. John McCain will announce specifics of his energy plan in the next few weeks, said Doug Holtz-Eakin, his campaign's policy director. It will include support for hybrid vehicles and alternative fuel, he said.

"We have to never let ourselves get in the position again where we have such an exclusive reliance on such unstable parts of the world," Holtz-Eakin said.

Tapping the nation's strategic reserves is "probably not a good idea," Brandl said. The short-term price drop would only postpone the inevitable price hike, and then the country would have to replenish its reserves at the higher price.

With the rising demand for oil in developing countries, instability in the Middle East and other vast oil reserves controlled by regimes hostile to the United States, the next president has two options for keeping gas prices down, said Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California Energy Institute.

"One is a price cap," which likely will harm the overall economy and cause long gas lines such as those during the 1970s oil embargo, Borenstein said. "Two is colonizing the Middle East, which most of us think is a pretty bad idea."

The other solution is figuring out how to live in a world where oil never again costs less than $100 a barrel, he said.

"The price of oil is high," Borenstein said. "Americans in general just need to get used to that and start adjusting to it, rather than ask their government to do something about it."

Additional Information:

On the trail

Today

Sen. Hillary Clinton

11:15 a.m., delivers remarks to the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel

2:30 p.m., 'Solutions for the Pennsylvania Economy' town hall meeting, King's College, Wilkes-Barre

7:30 p.m., 'Solutions for the Pennsylvania Economy' town hall meeting, Mercyhurst Athletic Center, Erie

Sen. Barack Obama

11:45 a.m., 'Road to Change' town hall meeting, Wilkes University, Wilkes-Barre

1:30 p.m., 'Road to Change' town hall meeting, Dunmore Community Center Gymnasium, Scranton

Wednesday

Sen. Hillary Clinton

11 a.m., Hosts an economic summit, IBEW Conference Center/Training Facility, 5 Hot Metal Drive, South Side

Michelle Obama

2:15 p.m., 'Stand for Change' rally, Skibo Gymnasium, Carnegie Mellon University, Tech and Frew Streets, Oakland

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