While Congress and Bush administration officials have been working to complete a bailout plan and stem the financial contagion on Wall Street, a different kind of economic crisis emerged across the South this week: A severe, hurricane-related gasoline shortage has curtailed trucking from Atlanta to Asheville, N.C., and created a wave of panic buying among motorists.
The return of gas lines has largely flown under the radar of politicians who are usually keenly attuned, because their constituents are, to what's going on at the pump. But more of the Capitol gang should be paying attention to this.
That's because nationwide our gasoline inventory is shockingly low. Liquidity must be restored soon to this market, or we could be facing a crippling run on the gasoline bank. And if you think Americans are outraged about Wall Street, wait until their Main Street grocery store doesn't get the bread and milk delivery for a week or two.
Back to the '70s
The scenes over the past several days in places like Nashville, Tenn., Anniston, Ala., and western North Carolina looked like file footage from 1979 - with bags over empty gas pumps and quarter-mile long lines of cars waiting to fill up at stations that hadn't run out. AAA reported that drivers were so desperate that they were following tankers to gas stations to ensure a fill-up.
In Georgia, Gov. Sonny Perdue got a waiver from the Environmental Protection Agency to temporarily allow stations to sell high-sulfur gasoline. (Correction: An earlier version of this story said Louisiana received the waiver and incorrectly named Perdue as that state's governor.) In Alabama, Gov. Bob Riley ordered a state of emergency to prevent price gouging by station owners that do have gas.
Gas shortages: get ready for more | War On You