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Fuel thefts, drive-offs, taxes all would ease if prices drop

It came as no surprise to us that incidents of stealing fuel would increase dramatically with the totally unreasonable leap in gasoline prices over recent weeks. Do we condone these thefts? We certainly do not -- not the theft of gasoline or anything else. But we do most vigorously urge that those who are able should get to the bottom of this gouging of consumers. That in itself is theft.

Yes, we know that it is summer, and summer is the season for average families to take vacations in their vehicles. But does it necessarily follow that the consumer should be exploited as he has been? To us, at least three questions need to be asked -- and answered honestly:

First and foremost, when is the consumer going to begin seeing relief at the gas pumps? If the gasoline prices in North Central West Virginia have ever been as high as they are today, we cannot remember when that was.

Secondly, when the price does begin to drop, will it really be enough to help motorists, or will it be a penny at a time?

Finally, we believe every American consumer deserves to know why gasoline prices have skyrocketed. Is it actually because of rising world prices of crude oil? Even President Bill Clinton does not believe so. Then why is his administration not doing more to make the United States more energy independent? What about oil exploration closer to home than the OPEC nations?

Returning to the increase of fuel thefts, including gas drive-offs, we see that the 400 members of the West Virginia Oil Marketers and Grocers Association are doing something about the problem. The association is sellling stickers warning, "Pay for your gas or lose your driver's license." This is all well and good for the gas dealers. Remember, we said we do not condone the theft of gasoline or anything else. But who is in the average customer's corner -- the honest customer, that is?

Gov. Cecil Underwood's office has said he was willing to review a proposal to cut the state's gasoline tax by 5 cents to give motorists a temporary break from the sky-high prices. But aides also indicated that he said it was too early to call a special session of the Legislature.

If our math is correct, is it not true that the amount we will pay in gasoline taxes will come down once the prices at the pumps return to a reasonable level? We believe so.

Robert F. Stealey

Telegram Editorial Board chairman

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