President George Bush

The White HouseWashington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

I had an unsettling experience today. I drove to a nearby service station and asked for a fill. It cost me $1.17 per gallon. I paid and left.

That's it. That was my unsettling experience. You may wonder: What's so unsettling about that?

It has to do with the gulf war. I should first say I support what you're doing there. I know our chief mission is to stop a brutal dictator. But another part of our mission - a legitimate one - is oil. The world - America - would be beholden to this dictator if he controlled half the Earth's reserves.

I know our troops won't let that happen this time, but I want to help keep us from being so vulnerable in the future. Now the unsettling part: I know I won't be motivated to do that if I can keep filling my gas tank for the cheapest price in the Western world.

A lot of us consumers are like that. It doesn't mean we don't worry about energy. We do. We don't like hearing that we import over 50 percent of our oil. We don't like knowing that the United States, with only 5 percent of the world's population, uses 25 percent of its energy. But Americans rarely rally to solve a national problem unless there's a crisis. And incentives.

I'm typical that way. I don't see myself as a selfish, gas-guzzling consumer, but I drive a car that could be more efficient and seldom moderate my energy use. I suppose it's human nature to ignore a problem unless something tangible makes you face it.

War is now making me face it. Like many citizens, I feel guilty that so many Americans are fighting in a faraway desert while I remain comfortable at home. I want to do something to help the cause.

I'd welcome sacrifice. I'd welcome a new energy program - even one that hurts, because it would make me feel I'm doing my part. It doesn't hurt me when I pay $1.17 a gallon while the Germans pay $3, the British $3.50 and the Italians $5. It feels too easy. Make me pay more.

No other policy would better moderate our energy use: 50 percent of oil in this country is consumed on the road. And the past shows U.S. drivers respond instantly to pump price hikes - ride-sharing, buying smaller cars, using public transportation.

Many gas tax backers suggest a 10-cent increase per year up to $3 or more, but I'd welcome a bigger jump. It would make me feel, in a small way, I'm sacrificing for the war cause.

As you know, each 1-cent increase in the gas tax raises $1 billion. That money in turn could spur development of what I'm told is the most promising oil alternative on the road: electric vehicles, now only a few years away. Meanwhile, we could push for other alternatives, like wind, solar and hydrogen.

Of course, there's a long list of other policies to think about. Communities need to be spurred to upgrade energy codes for new buildings. Public utility commissions need similar prompting to get homes and businesses to start using super-efficient lighting. And industry could cut energy use with incentives to convert to high-efficiency electric motors. The list goes on.

Let me say again: I know this isn't a war over oil. It's over aggression. The world's best energy policy won't mean we'll never have to stand up for freedom again. But it would diminish the power of some of the world's tyrants.

Perhaps your advisers are urging you to hold off, warning that the American public doesn't want new taxes or new conservation rules.

Well, I think I'm a typical member of the public. I drive a car that's too big, drive it inefficiently and rarely think about improving my home energy use. If changing any of those habits would help the cause our troops are fighting for now, and keep other Americans from having to fight in the future, I'm ready. I'm ready to show that America in crisis almost always rises to change. All I need are policies to convince me to change.