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Our View: Soaring gas prices should fuel concern, change

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If “America is addicted to oil,” as President Bush declared a couple of years ago, it needs a 12-step program in the worst way. Not tomorrow. Not next year. Not when a new president comes to town. Today. As the Auburn Journal six-part series, “Panic at the Pump,” concludes in today’s paper, it’s painfully clear the tentacles of skyrocketing gas prices are touching just about every segment of society. Whether you commute to work, shop for groceries or plan a summer vacation, you know it’s gotten a lot more expensive to live, work and play. There’s no doubt the connection between global oil demand and pump prices is much more complex than it was during the first energy crisis 35 years ago. While oil companies report record profits, gas station owners say they’re barely staying afloat. While gas hit $4.99 a gallon in the Southland Tuesday, you could still find “cheap gas” for $3.60 a gallon in Springfield, Mo. Behaviors are starting to change. Sunday drives are out, carpooling is in. Hybrids are replacing Hummers. Riding the bus is attractive. Cycling to work is sexy. On the national stage, White House hopefuls John McCain and Barack Obama have rolled out a menu of partisan-fed fixes, ranging from a federal gas tax “holiday” period and nuclear power expansion to alternative energy investment and a windfall profits tax on Big Oil. But as personal behaviors change and presidential politics play out, local and state government — as well as businesses — can show leadership as well. At city hall and DeWitt Center: The foothills are served by Auburn and Placer County Transit buses, but more could be done to promote ridership, from public education to rider-friendly Web tools. As ridership increases, additional buses — especially express routes to Roseville and Sacramento — can be justified. For the two-week period this summer, could Auburn Transit run a weekend shuttle bus between Auburn and the American River confluence, thus saving gas and reducing the plethora of parked cars? At the PD: Auburn needs more bike lanes, plain and simple. Besides attracting commuting and recreational cyclists, the lanes might attract an Auburn Police Department officer who easily could patrol Old Town and Downtown on two wheels. A lot friendlier than the all-black Charger that often roams the streets, too. At the Capitol: The federal maximum speed limit that saved fuel and lives during the first energy crisis in 1974-75 is really a states’ legal issue. If the California Legislature can come together on a state budget, they can certainly pass an emergency law lowering the maximum state speed limit. At work: Flexible work schedules, structured delivery schedules, incentives for carpooling and public transit … anything the private sector can do to reduce fuel use and promote alternatives to single-occupancy driving would make a measurable difference. America will be addicted to oil for many years to come. Until alternative forms of energy are affordable and widely available, our march toward peak oil — the point at which maximum oil production is reached — will be a steady one. The time to change course is now.