Saddam Hussein is teaching Americans how to conserve oil, again.
In the weeks following the Iraqi dictator's conquest of oil-producing Kuwait and his buildup of tanks and troops along the Saudi Arabian border, the price of gasoline and heating oil has soared - and put a crimp in U.S. lifestyles.From Rhode Island to California, motorists are driving less; school districts are drawing up alternative plans to keep their buses running, and farmers - recovering from their worst years since the Great Depression - are hunkering down for more hard times.
Recession is looming, jobs are threatened and consumer prices are heading higher.
All is not bad, however.
Murray Gold, of the Miami Beach Resort Hotel Association, doubts the glitzy resort will suffer.
"I've been in this business for about 50 years now, and I have found that even when people lose their jobs, they take vacations," Gold said. "People who are broke will find some way to take that vacation."
But other parts of the nation are worried, and people are taking steps to conserve energy in the first round of belt-tightening since the oil price shocks unleashed by the Iranian revolution in 1979 and the crippling Middle East oil embargo in 1973-1974.
Americans are the biggest oil consumers and burn about a sixth of the world's oil on U.S. highways.
In Minnesota, for example, state troopers are spending more time watching for speeders while parked at the side of the road rather than cruising the highways. The highway patrol wants to save $100,000 in fuel costs to stay within its budget.
District commanders have orders to slash gasoline costs by 10 percent, shop around for the lowest prices and stop using premium fuel.
Heating oil prices also are on the rise.
Vermont Castings Inc., of Randolph, Vt., a maker of wood stoves, said orders have increased sixfold since Iraq invaded Kuwait. "People are clearly concerned," company president Jack Hughes said.
In Massachusetts, Harvard University, which uses more than 25 million gallons of heating oil a winter at its medical school in Boston, hedged its costs by contracting for oil at guaranteed prices in May.
There are no signs of gas lines, but the price of regular unleaded gasoline is up everywhere and climbed to $1.899 a gallon at a station on the resort of Block Island, R.I., where fuel is shipped in by ferry.
Pump prices have shot up by about 20 cents a gallon since Iraq's Aug. 2 invasion of Kuwait.
In Mississippi, however, a check of 20 filling stations shows self-service regular unleaded cost an average of $1.269 a gallon - about a nickel a gallon less than the $1.31 a gallon national average reported by the American Automobile Association.
Still, Johnny Moore, of Jackson, Miss., who drives a gas-guzzling pickup truck, said, "It's too high" and complained that the big oil companies are taking advantage of motorists like him.
"What can we do about it?," Moore asked. "The government won't stop it and we have to get to work."
October has been declared the second annual "Energy Awareness and Transportation Month" in Utah.
"If one out of every two Utahns gets out of the car and into mass transit, Utah will conserve half the gasoline cars usually burn, clear the air of half the pollution from cars and cut traffic congestion in half," said John Pingree of the Utah Transit Authority.
In California, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District is offering its 2,000 workers discounted public transit passes. "Overconsumption of oil has brought us air pollution and to the brink of war," said David Freeman, the utility's general manager.
Farmers also are tightening their belts.
"One farmer who contracts with a harvest outfit said he has seen a $2 increase per acre (in the cost of harvesting) as a direct result of the Mideast situation," said Bob Krauter of the California Farm Bureau.
"If you have a crop out there that has to be harvested, with the rains coming there's not much a farmer can do to get around these higher costs," he said.
There also appears to be trouble ahead for schools.
A survey by the National School Transportation Association of Springfield, Va., said school districts have been hit by an average increase of more than 25 cents a gallon in fuel costs.
For a school district as large as Los Angeles, each penny increase in fuel prices would raise overall transportation costs by $100,000, the survey said.
In Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Public School District has been protected by a $310,000 budget reserve for sudden fuel price increases, but transportation chief Michael Leskosek said, "If things continue to go wild, service may have to be curtailed."